Rice can possibly become the number one crop in Tanzania. According to sources, rice is becoming increasingly essential in providing foreign exchange to Tanzania. There is consensus that increased rice exports and production will not only assist Tanzania in dealing with its food supply issues but would also broaden the country’s export basket.
According to the Bank of Tanzania‘s (BoT) Monthly Economic Review for October 2021, rice exports increased from $97.4 million in the fiscal year ending in September 2020, to $303.4 million in the fiscal year ending in September 2021. Rice exports were noted as one of the causes leading to the country’s foreign exchange reserves reaching an all-time high of $6.7 billion in the fiscal year ending in September 2021.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) stated that Tanzania was among the top 20 rice producers in the world in 2020/2021. In the same year, it was Africa’s fourth-largest producer, after only Nigeria, Egypt, and Madagascar. The sharp increase in the export value of rice resulted in a significant increase in the export value of non-traditional exports within the country, which primarily comprise cereals, oilseeds, cocoa, rawhides, and woods.
Export value increased from $757.8 million in the fiscal year ending in September 2020, to $1.356 billion in the fiscal year ending September 2021. The data given by BoT should provide policymakers, farmers, and all other stakeholders with information on rice’s great potential as a strategic crop in the country.
According to the USDA, which closely monitors African food production and consumption trends, rice has transitioned from luxury food to a major staple. It is a growing source of calories and is now highly in demand in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) due to the growing economies, urbanization, increased household incomes, improvements in infrastructure, and greater market access.
This also suggests that SSA’s rice consumption will increase imports to 15.4 million tonnes by 2026. The increase in demand means that the country can be a ready market for Tanzanian rice provided their rice output is increased over the next four years and taking into account that the country is set to gain from the Africa Continental Free Trade Area. Malawi, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Kenya have been traditional markets for Tanzanian rice, but Africa can potentially be added to the list.
In Tanzania, rain-fed lowland rice agriculture accounts for around 71% of total rice production, while highland rice cultivation accounts for 20%. According to the International Rice Research Centre, irrigated rice farming accounts for around 9% of all rice cultivation.
According to Food and Agriculture Data (FAOSTAT) statistics, Tanzania has around 21 million hectares suitable for rice production, however, only approximately 1.1 million hectares were grown in the 2017/18 season. Output can be increased if irrigated rice farming accounts for half of all rice cultivation in the country, which is entirely feasible.
Tanzania has several policies and programs in place to do so. Tanzania’s 10-year National Rice Development Strategy (NRDS I), approved by the government in 2008, intends to turn smallholder rice planting into a commercially competitive production system to achieve national self-sufficiency. The second phase (NRDS II) began in December 2019 and is set to last for ten years.
Dr. Adolph Mkenda, Minister of Agriculture, revealed the government’s aims to increase rice output by 75 percent to 100 percent gradually when tabling the budget for the fiscal year 2021/2022. “We also anticipate that the Rufiji Basin Development Authority (Rubada) would expand output in conjunction with the business sector and the Regional Rice Centre of Excellence (RRCE) in Ifakara,” Dr. Mkenda said.
He stated that the objective for the current fiscal year is to develop 28 irrigation systems. Farmers participating in these programs will be provided with fertilizers high-yielding seeds, extension services, access to mechanization, and instruction on improved land and water usage. RRCE is also now working on creating high-yielding upland rice.
Rice output surpassed one million metric tonnes for the first time in the 2010/11 season, owing to concentrated efforts as part of the NRDS I implementation, and has been steadily expanding since then. In the 2015/16 season, it surpassed two million.
Tanzania will face several hurdles to attain its full rice-producing potential, with the first hurdle being the need to mechanize rice growing. Rice cultivation is one of the least mechanized production in the country due to the dominance of smallholdings. According to experts, mechanization will have an immediate impact on boosting outputs.
The quality of Tanzania milled rice is occasionally poor, resulting in reduced costs on the global market. Rice processing, and in turn rice quality, should also improve when new technology is introduced.