Can agrarian transformation in Ethiopia’s Fogera Plain be scaled? Lessons from a national engagement workshop
Written by: Dawit Alemu and Evelyn Otieno
Ethiopia is facing a decline in national rice self-sufficiency and rice imports, which cost the country about US$200 million in 2019. However, there is a pathway to reversing this trend and recovering the national rice sector… The solution? An effective policy framework. This was the conclusion reached at a national engagement event held by the APRA Ethiopia team to discuss the country’s rice value chain with key stakeholders. The meeting, held on 29 November 2021, was convened by APRA Ethiopia to share the team’s research findings from studies on the transformation of the national rice sector with government officials, fellow researchers, development partners and more.
The meeting took place at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) and was attended by representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Agricultural Transformation Institute, EIAR, regional agricultural research institutes, and development organisations including the Japan International Cooperation Agency in Ethiopia, EthioRice and the Mennonite Economic Development Associates in Ethiopia. Other stakeholders who were unable to join the meeting physically opted to join virtually.
Presentation of key findings
To set the pace for the discussion, the researchers made presentations on the key production trends, import and consumption of rice, and the challenges currently facing the rice sector. Giving an account of agrarian transformation, APRA researcher Dawit Alemu explained, “the success of rice commercialisation in the Fogera Plain leads to important policy and development questions, such as why other areas in Ethiopia are not as successful and why the levels of national self-sufficiency are continuously declining.” The participants considered these questions alongside the findings, and attributed the declining self-sufficiency and competition from imported rice to the following factors:
- Low rice production and productivity – the national average is only 2.96MT/ha compared to its projected productivity of 5.12t/ha in 2019.
- High competition from imported rice which is of a higher quality than domestic rice.
- Fogera Plain’s social inclusion, rural-urban linkages, rural labour markets, and other successes in inclusive agrarian change have not been expanded to other rice hubs.
- Shortage of pre-harvest mechanisation and post-harvest processing technologies for milling, storage, and transport.
- Inadequate market development to link domestic and international value chains.
- Lack of skilled human and training resources, and inadequate rice research and development.
- As the rice sector is commercialised, effort is withdrawn from the production of livestock and other crops, such as pulses, in Fogera Plain. This leads to a decline in these production sectors, and thus has negative impacts on national self-sufficiency.
Recommendations for policy and development
Following the discussions, the participants made five policy recommendations:
- The government should revive the national steering committee to oversee the implementation of the National Rice Sector Development Strategy (NRSD) for rice sector development at national and regional levels.
- The government should develop a national rice flagship programme that guides the implementation of NRSD with the identified seven rice hubs (Fogera, Pawi, Abobo, Gura Fereda, May Tsebri, Gode and Chewaka).
- Stakeholders should explore how the private sector can engage pro-actively in rice commercial farming, processing, technology importation and demonstration.
- There is a need to strengthen collaborations with bodies such as the Coalition for African Rice Development, AfricaRice and the EthioRice project (2020–2025).
- The government should ensure the alignment of all rice related initiatives through the flagship programme.
The meeting suggested the following ways through which these recommendations can be achieved:
- Enhancing the operationalisation of the National Rice Research and Training Centre to ensure the availability of trained manpower in the production, processing, and marketing of domestic rice.
- Addressing the challenges which arise from restrictive land use policies.
- Conducting research and development to ensure that local rice is competitive in price and quality in comparison to imported rice.
- Development of incentive mechanisms for farmers and agro-processors to produce quality rice.
- Modernising and building the capacity of rice processors, and standardising the key requirements for licensing of rice processing facilities.
- Improving marketing systems, not only for rice but also for other crops – such as vegetables – which are the primary contributors to smallholder rice farmers’ incomes.
These policy recommendations and the plans for their adoption provide hope for the future of Ethiopia’s rice sector. Gathering research findings, engaging stakeholders, and collaborating to identify pathways to improve the value chain are critical steps in addressing the challenges currently facing the sector. It is hoped that these activities will be central to the scaling up of lessons learned in order to enhance the production, productivity, and competitiveness of domestic rice in Ethiopia.