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Friday, 05 June 2009

The Africa Report: Rice, a new cash crop for Uganda's busy farmers

by Gemma Ware

A specially-developed new grain is helping farmers earn more money than they do from growing maize,and it is beginning to drive a revolution in smallholder farming

Sprouting up amid fields of matoke, maize and coffee which carpet the hills of eastern Uganda is a new cash crop.  Rice, which is also fast becoming the food of choice for a young generation reluctant to spend time preparing the traditional maize-porridge ugali, has helped spark a revolution in smallholder farming. 

A sea change came with the energetic dissemination of the New Rice for Africa (NERICA), which was developed in West Africa in 1992. A hybrid of African and Asian rice varieties, it is high-yielding, diseaseresistant and well-suited to both Uganda’s rain-fed upland areas and its swampy dambo or wet areas. 

Smallholder rice farming in Uganda has doubled as farmers have seen the advantages of growing rice as a cash crop. The area cultivated for upland rice grew from 1,500 ha in 2002 to 40,000 ha in 2008. Rice farmers are better off. “Per kilo they sell it at USh1,200 ($0.54) and maize they sell at USh5-600,” says Lozio Makesa, a farmer who works at the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) at Namulonge. “They manage to build houses and buy motorcycles from NERICA’s money.”

Demand for rice is soaring.  Where private producer Tilda Uganda, which runs a lowlandrice farm in Kibimba, used to sell 75% of its rice in Uganda with the rest exported to neighbouring countries, now “almost all our rice production is sold in the domestic market,” says Tilda director Venugopal Pookat.

Here come the little guys
The farmers’ productivity in upland varieties is creating new competition for the traditional lowland rice growers.  Tilda produced 20% of Uganda’s domestic rice in 2004/05, but it now produces 13% and expects a further drop in its market share as smallholder farming increases. The boost in production means Uganda can export more. In 2005, 48,337 tonnes of rice were imported and 15,185 tonnes exported, but by 2008, imports, which carry a 70% tariff, had fallen by 37% to 30,223 tonnes, and the country had stepped up exports by 67% to 25,351 tonnes. 

Since last year’s food-price crisis, a lot of international attention has been given to increasing Africa’s rice production. The Coalition on African Rice Development (CARD) – launched last year with the help of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) – aims to double rice production in Africa from 14m tonnes per year to 28m tonnes by 2018. 

CARD has been called on to tackle the system of agricultural subsidies in rice-producing countries that make it virtually impossible for Africa to consider exporting rice outside the continent.  But Hiroshi Hiraoka, coordinator at CARD’s secretariat in Nairobi, accepts its powers are limited: “We can raise a voice, but we are not in the position to change the world.”

Not all in one basket
Farmers are warned by crop experts not to replace all their staples of maize and cassava.  One of NERICA’s advantages over traditional African rice varieties is that it requires less water, but it still needs at least 20mm of water every five days. If the rain does not come, it can be a high-risk crop. 

NaCRRI researcher Alibu Simon says farmers complain about seed companies’ tactics.  “What we notice is that [the companies] buy seed from the farmers, treat it and sell it back to the same farmers.” The researchers are encouraging Ugandans to give or sell a portion of their seed to their neighbours after each harvest.

Posted in Miscellaneous by dk at 4:51 PMPermalink

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