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Key messages and required actions for Ethiopian rice sector development: Outcomes of a national rice conference

EARC 2021 participants at the International Livestock Research Institute, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

EARC 2021 participants at the International Livestock Research Institute, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


Written by Dawit Alemu

As part of the 2021 East African Rice Conference (EARC), national workshops were held in six African countries: Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. EARC aimed to identify policy reforms to transform Africa’s rice sector through scientific innovations, and the national events provided an opportunity to assess such opportunities in each of the six countries, individually. This blog explores the outcomes of Ethiopia’s national workshop, which was held in parallel in Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar.


Introduction

On 18th May 2021, the Ethiopian national rice conference gathered senior officials, experts, researchers, businessmen drawn from the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), federal and regional agricultural research institutes, private companies engaged in rice seed production, importation of agricultural machineries and agro-chemicals, farmers and rice processors.

The national conference was facilitated by Dr Dawit Alemu, Manager of the Bilateral Ethiopian-Netherlands Effort for Food, Income and Trade Partnership program and APRA Ethiopia country lead, who introduced the objectives of both the national and regional conference. These objectives were: (i) to facilitate knowledge exchange on rice sector research and development at national and regional levels;(ii) to take stock of public, private and donor-supported initiatives to inform policy-making and implementation; and (iii) to boost multi-stakeholder collaboration toward achieving national and regional rice self-sufficiency, increasing food and nutrition security, and alleviating poverty through inclusive and sustainable production and commercialisation. In addition, he provided the conference content for both the national and regional events.

EARC 2021 participants at BDR Dilano

National conference opening session

Following the opening event were technical presentations and discussions on six priority thematic areas, listed in the table below. The conference was officially opened by Mrs Yenenesh Egu, Director of the Agricultural Extension Directorate of MoA, on behalf of the Ministry. She acknowledged the importance of the conference, which is linked with the East African regional level, in relation to the consideration of rice in Ethiopia as one of the priority commodities next to wheat, oil crops and cotton. The importance of rice was presented both in terms of the opportunities and challenges it provides associated with (i) the increasing trend in the expansion of rice production linked with agro-ecological suitability and existing potential, (ii) the compatibility of rice in local farming systems and traditional foods, (iii) the economic incentives of rice production (comparative advantage), and (iv) the rapid increase in domestic rice consumption and the associated burden on foreign currency due to rice imports. She reflected that the national and regional conference provides an opportunity to deliberate on these issues and identify key directions that will guide future intervention options.

As part of the opening session, Dr Abdelbagi Ismail, Principal Scientist and International Rice Research Institute Africa Representative, and Dr Yusuke Haneishi, General Coordinator of the Coalition for African Rice Development Secretariat, shared their respective pre-recorded speeches, which primarily focused on the importance of the regional conference, what is expected from the conference and future engagement of the respective organisations in supporting rice sector development, both at the national and regional level.

Thematic presentations, discussions and suggested interventions

Following the opening event, the presentation and discussion were made in the six streams with their respective two key focus themes. The key outcomes of the presentations and discussions, along with suggested interventions, are summarised in the table below.

Contribution of the national conference to EARC 2021 (closing panel discussion)

The key outcomes of the national conference were shared at EARC 2021 conference held on 19th and 20th of May, virtually. In addition, a participant Mr Abebe Haile, a businessman engaged in rice sector, provided his reflections at the conclusion session of EARC 2021 for the key questions. In relation to his reflection on how to transform the rice sector in East Africa by 2030, he responded that the following four issues need due attention if the sector is to be transformed:

  • Ensuring the research institutes innovate and produce both biological (variety) and mechanical technologies that are fit to the biophysical and socio-economic conditions in East Africa, and that the private sector is engaged in the R&D of these technologies. In Ethiopia, the focus of research is more on varietal development and the role of private actors is very limited;
  • Engage the private sector in developing and marketing available technologies from the research institutes to ensure improved commercialisation. In Ethiopia, the commercialisation of available technologies is almost nil. Even the improved varieties are often handled by public actors reducing the speed and extent of adoption of available technologies;
  • Ensure that farmers have the knowledge and skill in utilising available technologies from the above two actions
  • Improve the enabling environment, including the trade policies, infrastructure, financial and other services. If the rice sector is to be modernised, promotion of mechanisation is crucial, which demands easy access to finance. Thus, access to finance, especially for private actors, needs due attention.

Responding to the question ‘what was the one ‘big idea’ he heard during the conference that he thinks could help transform East Africa’s rice sector,’ Mr Abebe responded that all participating African countries know what they need to do to enhance the performance of their respective rice sectors, due to the fact that almost all countries have rice specific R&D strategies ready and that governments and development partners have shown commitments.

In relation to the question ‘what was the one ‘big obstacle’ that might prevent that transformation from occurring, and how might it be overcome,’ he reflected that as an outcome of the national conference, the key challenge identified was limited implementation of the designed national rice R&D strategies along with limited regional integrations timely.

Mr Abebe indicated that one ‘key issue’ that was missing from the conference discussions, which he thinks will need to be addressed to help transform East Africa, is the fact that large-scale commercial farms seem to be left out of the discussion, despite the fact that they are key drivers in technology adoption and addressing the challenge of self-sufficiency in rice.

Conclusion

Both the national and regional rice conferences gave the opportunity for relevant stakeholders to reflect the status, existing challenges and opportunities facing the respective countries’ rice sectors, along with the sharing of experiences.