Scientists offer alternative to boost rice yield

Sunday March 03 2024

A woman works at a rice plantation farm in Ahero, Kenya on October 5, 2021. PHOTO | NMG


Africa needs not take up extensive land conversion to increase its rice production, says a new study. The continent should instead consider improved agronomic practices, such as land development, soil and plant nutrition, weed control and water management.

“Nearly 15 million hectares of rice are waiting for yield improvement in Africa, but no yield gain can be achieved without better agronomy,” said research coordinator, Patricio Grassini, “Intensifying rice production to reduce imports and land conversion in Africa is pertinent.”

Africa’s rice imports represent about a third of the rice traded on the global market, said Shen Yuan, a professor of agronomy at Huazhong Agricultural University and lead author of the study.

Boosting African rice yields as outlined in the study can go far in “meeting the future rice demand of 150 million tonnes by 2050 without increases in current rice exports while reducing the pressure to convert land for rice cultivation,” said Shaobing Peng, a professor of agronomy at Huazhong Agricultural University who also contributed to the study, which was published in Nature Communications.

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In the case of rice in Africa, there is a clear opportunity for increasing production via intensification, given that average yield has remained largely stagnant over decades and lower than that in other rice producing countries.


 For example, while Egypt in North Africa and Senegal in West Africa achieved yields close to yield potential, East Africa exhibited the largest exploitable yield gap for irrigated rice within Africa, whereas large gaps were common across the entire area cultivated with rainfed rice.

Currently, the average yield for Africa’s rice sector is less than half what could be attained by implementing enhanced agronomic practices, while avoiding the need for additional land allocation to rice production.

Domestic rice production in Africa only meets about 60 percent of the continent’s demand yet doubling population in Africa over the next 30 years, together with greater rice consumption per capita, would lead to 135 percent increase in demand, totaling 150 metric tonnes by 2050.

The rice deficit will sum up to 67 metric tonnes by 2050, which is equivalent to $20 billion of rice imports at current prices.

“Africa’s heavy reliance on imports not only poses a significant threat to food security, but also leaves the continent susceptible to external supply and price shocks, as has happened recently when India imposed bans on rice exports,” said Martin van Ittersum, a professor of agronomy at Wageningen University.

The study by researchers from the Africa Rice Center, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Huazhong Agricultural University and Wageningen University and Research received support from the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research Excellence in Agronomy 2030 (incubation phase).