Friday, September 17, 2010

Policy changes

Rice is now prominently on the agenda of many countries and they are serious about domestic production, explains AfricaRice economist, Dr. Ibrahima Bamba.

In the old days of structural adjustment, policy makers were led to believe that the market would take care of seed, fertilizer and everything else. But laissez faire failed Africa. While Asian governments worked to guarantee local production, Africa tried to rely on the global market, and began to import more and more to feed the cities. The reliance of imports exacerbated Africa’s  exposure to international market shocks. It is not surprising that most of the recent food riots were in Africa.

Before the crisis, global demand for rice was growing faster than world production. Global rice stocks were low, down to about two to three months of world consumption. AfricaRice noticed that rice prices had been increasing for some time, and warned the member states of the crisis before it happened, speaking directly to the decision makers at meetings such as the Council of Ministers. In 2007 the Director General Dr Papa Abdoulaye Seck started touring the countries, saying there might be an imminent crisis in rice and urging decision-makers to invest in farming. The governments appreciated the advance warning. Yet they only made major investments in rice after the 2008 crisis.

The case for investing in domestic agriculture remains strong, as accumulated evidence shows that local rice is competitive. Now more countries are trying to be self-sufficient to avoid being hurt again by another rice crisis.

Policy communication. AfricaRice communicates the results of research for policy makers through several channels including the Council of Ministers’ meetings held every two years, the national expert committee meeting, briefs, workshops, the media etc. In 2009, the average annual contribution by member States increased by 30 times compared with the period 2001-2006., which is a clear indicator of the effectiveness of AfricaRice policy communication.

With the support of many donors, AfricaRice has assisted its member countries boost seed production significantly. For example, USAID has funded a major seed project in West Africa that facilitated access to certified seed to 40,000 smallholder farmers through a voucher system designed and implemented with the Catholic Relief Services, IFDC, and NARS, private seed companies and seed producers’ associations. Also, the Japanese Government has supported a project to provide access to quality seed to more than 58,000 vulnerable farmers in 20 countries across the continent.

AfricaRice is reinforcing collaboration with regional institutions like ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), ROPPA (Network of Farmers' and Agricultural Producers' Organizations of West Africa), and others for further opportunities for policy communication and outreach.

What the countries are doing. The policy landscape is changing. In addition to growing more rice, most countries are aware of the need to improve its quality. “Subsidy” used to be a taboo word. Now policy makers are starting to say that governments need to subsidize fertilizer, and seed production. And farmer groups are more vocal in expressing their needs.

During the 2008-09 cropping season in Mali, for instance, the government subsidized fertilizer, seed and helped finance farm machinery such as mini rice mills, rice threshers, and other equipment to improve rice processing. Greater support to local rice production paid dividends.

The Sahel harvested a bumper crop of rice in 2008-09: a 44% increase in one year. The increase was over 200% in Burkina Faso, although from a relatively low base. Many countries recorded double digit growth. The weather also helped, with good rainfall.

Many are now talking about irrigation, while before irrigation was regarded as a failure in Africa. But If you control for ecology (e.g. rainfall), rice yields are as high in Africa as they are anywhere in the world.

It is too soon to call victory, as of 2007 only eight countries had complied with the 2003 Africa Union Maputo decision to allocate at least 10% of their budget for agriculture. But national governments are now certainly more interested in investing in agriculture.