Average rice yields in sub-Saharan Africa jump after the rice crisis

High rice prices in 2007/2008 caused major social unrest in Africa and this is still fresh in people’s memories. As a result of this ‘rice crisis’, African governments (assisted by the international donor community) embarked on ambitious programs to boost their rice production capacity. Five years down the road it seems like a good moment to look at what happened.

We analyzed trends in rice production across the African continent, placing particular emphasis on the period before and after the 2007/2008 rice crisis. All data were retrieved from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) (www.fas.usda.gov/psdonline/psdQuery.aspx, accessed 7 February 2013).

What we discovered was very encouraging. The production growth rate in sub-Saharan Africa increased from 3.2% per year before the rice crisis (2000–2007) to 8.4% per year after the rice crisis (2007–2012). Paddy rice production increased by 2.8 million tons (Mt) from 2000 to 2007, and then accelerated, increasing by 4.7 Mt in the period 2007–2012.

Next, we performed a segmented regression analysis on paddy rice yield in SSA over the period 1961 to 2012 partitioned into two intervals: 1961-2007 and again 2007-2012. The analysis shows that rice yield increased by about 11 kg ha-1 per year from 1961 to 2007 (R-squared=0.6) and by a spectacular 108 kg ha-1 per year from 2007 to 2012 (R-squared=0.8), despite two relatively bad years (2011 and 2012) plagued by drought and floods (see graph). Average rice yield jumped by about 30% from 2007 to 2012.

Major rice-growing countries contributing to the yield increase after the rice crisis include: Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

Over the period 2007-2012, 71% of the increase in paddy rice production can be explained by yield increase and 29% by area expansion, whereas before the rice crisis (2000-2007), only 24% of production increase could be attributed to increases in yield and 76% to increases in harvested area. This is very encouraging evidence of increased use of technological innovation after the rice crisis, such as improved varieties and improved crop management in general.

In comparison, cereal yields after the Second World War in the UK jumped on average by 78 kg ha-1 per year and in the USA by 50 kg ha-1 per year. Rice yield worldwide, driven by the Green Revolution in Asia, increased by 52 kg ha-1 per year over the period 1960–2010. Rice yields in sub-Saharan Africa are now increasing at a faster rate than the global average. Are these the first signs of a Green Revolution in the making in sub-Saharan Africa, like seen in Asia’s irrigated systems?

Average rice yield in sub-Saharan Africa is definitely increasing at a revolutionary rate. However, in contrast to Asia, more than 70% of Africa’s rice is grown under rainfed conditions. A country like Sierra Leone, that has seen a clear increase in average rice yield after the rice crisis has vast areas of upland and inland valley swamps devoted to rice, but no rice is grown under irrigation.

It is also important to note that Africa has already witnessed what could be called ‘mini-Green Revolutions in rice’, in particular in irrigated systems in the Sahelian regions of West Africa. For example, paddy rice yields in the Office du Niger (a large irrigated rice producing area in Mali) increased between 1986 and 1998 from an average 2.5 t ha-1 per year to 6.0 t ha-1 per year, after renovation of irrigation schemes, the introduction of improved varieties and mineral fertilizer and improved crop management in general (including moving from direct-seeded to transplanted systems).

A multitude of rice systems in sub-Saharan Africa is, therefore, likely to be responsible for this encouraging trend. It will be very important to study what is happening in more detail.

This particular analysis will feature in a forthcoming AfricaRice publication, to be published by CABI, entitled Realizing Africa’s Rice Promise. The results will also be discussed at the Third Africa Rice Congress, being organized by AfricaRice and the Government of Cameroun, to be held in Yaoundé, Cameroun, 21–24 October 2013.