Rice farmers worldwide are the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Droughts, floods, high temperatures and water salinisation due to rising sea levels, seriously affect harvests. Rice farming requires around 40% of the world’s irrigation water and contributes significantly to climate change. Large amounts of greenhouse gases are generated by rice farming, with 10% of global methane emissions coming from rice paddies. The challenge is to meet global rice demand while still protecting our planet.
In East Africa, rice is an important food security crop, with an average per capita consumption at 25.8kg for Tanzania, 14kg for Kenya, and 8kg for Uganda. Consumption exceeds local production, with Kenya and Uganda being significant importers of rice; and demand for rice is growing. There are however large disparities in import dependency across the region; Uganda’s rice import share for example stands at 24 percent (MAAIF Statistical abstract 2018) while that of Kenya stands at about 80 percent. The governments of Tanzania and Uganda have recognised the opportunity for their rice sectors and protect their developing farmers, processors, and traders by imposing a 75% tariff on rice imports while Kenya has imposed a 35% tariff. They are also investing in new irrigation schemes, mechanising existing schemes and promoting new rice varieties.
Rice production in Uganda and Tanzania is dominated by smallholder farmers, although they are often operating within large irrigation schemes that were developed by the Government with significant donor funds. Key donors like the World Bank, Africa Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank, and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) continue to prioritise support to rice sector development.
Despite the significant development of the rice sector in Tanzania and Uganda, there are still significant challenges, especially the high production and trade costs and variable quality which limits the sector’s competitiveness in world markets.
These challenges were examined in more detail by a Rikolto study in 2016, which confirmed that profit margins in the rice value chain are small and investments are essential to reduce costs and achieve economies of scale at both production and processing levels.
Rikolto has been working in the rice sector in East Africa since 2014. Currently, our actions are geared towards finding solutions to the disruptions caused by covid-19 and ensuring that our activities are sustainable after the end of the current programme in 2021.
In response to the covid-19 pandemic, we will conduct the following activities throughout 2020 and 2021:
To ensure the sustainability and continuation of the activities beyond 2021, we will set up the following exit interventions:
Rikolto East Africa is also part of Rikolto’s Global Rice Cluster which works in 9 countries in Africa and Asia. The work that we do therefore feeds into evidence building that can be used in the Sustainable Rice Platform.
In 2018, Rikolto launched its work on the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) standard with pilots in Uganda and Tanzania. The work to strengthen SRP scores of farmer organisations in two irrigation schemes in Uganda and one scheme in Tanzania continued in 2019. Our SRP work has not gone unnoticed by other actors in the value chain. We have stepped up engagement on the policy level to advocate in favour of the SRP standard with technocrats as well as policy makers. In the private sector, one fertiliser company has shown interest in working with us with environmentally safe fertilisers. In Tanzania, Wehubit – funded by Enabel – enabled us to expand our work in cooperation with Kilimo Trust to four additional irrigation schemes in Iringa, a major rice producing region. Explore more here.
We have also trained private Business Development Services (BDS) providers, such as Bongomin Group which has engaged 300 youth to provide professional labour in the rice sector, on the use of the SRP standard. To ensure the sustainability of our activities, we are building a pool of service providers who can continue to provide SRP trainings to other organisations and private companies that want to implement SRP projects.
For one such service, soil testing, we have not been able to develop a strong business case just yet, but we hope to engage youth to provide this service in the future. We have conducted soil testing, together with the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), for two farmer organisations in Tanzania (Uwamale and Magugu) to support farmers in the decision about the quantity and type of fertilisers to use. While the service itself is valuable to farmers, there is more work to be done on building a business case that’s strong enough to attract the private sector in soil testing.
Rikolto has also pioneered the testing of new approaches, such as Sustainable Rice Intensification which led to an increase in productivity per acre from 18 to 26 bags. Farmers also reported savings such as the reduction is seed use from 20kgs per 0.3ha to 6kg. Although labour costs were higher in absolute terms, these costs were more than offset by the increase in yields and other cost savings. Expansion of the System of Rice Intensification remains challenging as government policies have not prioritised this approach, however this is expected to change as water stress becomes more acute.
In partnership with TARI, we have supported farmer organisations to put in place basic Quality Management Systems that enable them to deliver quality rice products that meet consumer demands and attract better prices in the market. We have also engaged with the East African Grain Council to promote Quality Management Systems. In this light, they have organised trainings to enable farmers to produce, process and trade in higher quality markets.
Our activities have also focused on supporting inclusive business models in the rice sector. In Uganda, we’ve been working with three big rice millers – SWT, Diner’s Group and Kingdom Rice – and connected them with rice cooperatives. These discussions have attracted this interest of the Microfinance Support Centre, which facilitates the access to finance for farmers to buy high quality and sustainable inputs.
To improve the market information available to farmers, we have worked with the East African Grain Council to set up a SMS system to which farmers can subscribe to receive market information messages – for instance about market prices - through SMS.
Rikolto also supported policy work, such as the advocacy work by the Uganda Rice Millers Council to ensure the import duty was set at an appropriate level for rice sector development. We also funded a study supported by the Rice Millers Council to evaluate and recommend investments for future development of the rice sector, with a focus on mechanisation.
In Tanzania, we have been advocating with District Environment Officers to address critical ecological issues, such as deforestation and water sources management.
Rikolto currently works with over 6,000 rice farmers in Uganda and Tanzania to support inclusive business development. Within one of the rice schemes we also are piloting the Sustainable Rice Platform tool with 3,250 farmers.