Since the early 2000s, West Africa imports around half of the rice consumed. Nevertheless, this figure hides a wide range of situations: some countries such as Mali are almost self-sufficient, while others such as Niger import more than three quarters of their rice.
The deficit is growing because rice consumption is increasing under the triple effect of population growth, urbanisation and rapid changes in West African diets.
In reaction to the 2008 world food price crisis, several West African governments, supported by international organizations, redefined their policies, aimed at upgrading domestic rice value chains. This upgrading is characterised by investments in large rice hulling units and the establishment of coordination mechanisms between actors in the value chain (for example contracts), in order to provide high quality rice.
The upgrading of value chains is more dynamic in countries with high rice production and imports, and with more pronounced urban consumer preferences for imported rice, like Nigeria and Senegal. This suggests that large import bills also generate important market opportunities for private sector investors if they manage to upgrade local rice quality to import standards. However, investment in rice processing requires the availability of sufficient supplies of paddy rice.
Traditional value chains supply 99% of local rice in West Africa
In spite of these upgrading policies, traditional value chains still provide 99% of local rice in West Africa. These traditional value chains are made up of farmers, millers and traders who have little capital, manage small quantities of product and supply rice of varying quality.
Traditional value chains dominate local supplies because of the uncertain and restrictive contexts in which they operate. Upgrading local value chains is thus a real challenge in terms of vertical coordination, technology, finance and policies.
Both traditional and upgraded value chains could be seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The policy options introduced below could mitigate these impacts.
Limiting the impact of COVID-19 on local value chains
Movement restrictions, price volatility and the general perceived uncertainty in the context of the COVID-19 crisis are likely to cause supply problems for rice millers. This could particularly affect modern mills, which need high volumes of paddy to recover investment costs. Furthermore, COVID-19 could also increase private financial institutions’ reluctance to provide loans.
The policy responses aimed at mitigating the effects of COVID-19 on domestic rice value chains need to take into consideration the diversity of rice sectors in West Africa. While some policies can be implemented by all countries, others should be tailored to the specificities of each country.
In the short term, supporting the resilience of value chains
Short-term measures to address the obstacle of access to inputs facing actors in value chains include, for instance, providing millers with interest-free loans and simplifying the administrative procedures for access to credit. Such measures would help millers to maintain their activity, in particular by supporting paddy production. These loans should be conditional upon acceptable purchasing and marketing prices.
Another example is that governments could secure procurement of key inputs for producers, such as seed and fertilizers.
In the medium and long term, supporting value chain upgrading
Medium- and long-term measures should focus on supporting the upgrading of value chains. These options include policies aimed at creating an enabling environment for domestic and foreign direct investment.
For instance, governments can set up special credit lines for investors, develop regulatory frameworks for contract farming, and continue to develop rural infrastructure. Support should also be provided to enhance the use of rice by-products, the quality of rice-based diets and the nutrient content of rice.
Aminou Arouna is Program Leader & Impact Assessment Economist at the Africa Rice Center.
Guillaume Soullier is Researcher at the Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement (Cirad).
Patricio Mendez del Villar is Senior Researcher at Cirad.
Matty Demont is Senior Scientist at the International Rice Research Institute.