Added challenges for the rice sector in Ethiopia caused by COVID-19

Written by Dawit Alemu and Abebaw Assaye

This blog uses new APRA research to explain how COVID-19 has increased the pressure on the Ethiopian rice sector.  The authors provide details the APRA study, the impact on rice production, before examining the decline in household rice production and looking at the way forward for the industry.

Read more on the Impact of COVID-19 on Food Systems and Rural Livelihoods in Ethiopia in the Round One and Round Two APRA country reports.

Read the full APRA synthesis report on the Rapid Assessment of the Impact of COVID-19 on Food Systems and Rural Livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa, here.


Like other African countries, rice has become one of the most important commodities for domestic production and consumption in Ethiopia. The increase in domestic consumption has surpassed the increase in domestic production, thereby forcing the country to import rice. It is estimated that the level of self-sufficiency has declined from about 70 per cent in 2008 to 24 per cent in 2019, creating a burden on the meagre foreign currency reserves (see APRA Working Paper 44 to understand the emerging importance of rice as a strategic crop in Ethiopia).

While different initiatives have been implemented to boost domestic rice production including public investment in rice research and training, public extension services, membership in Coalition for African Rice Development (CARD) initiative, and promoting commercial rice production, the outbreak of COVID-19 has created more challenges for domestic production, marketing and rice imports, creating considerable challenge to keep rice supplies well-stocked for consumers. This will disrupt the performance of the rice value chain influencing the opportunities rice offer as business for the different actors of the value chain and also the food and nutritional security status of rice consumers.

Youth volunteers take to the streets to mobilise against COVID 19 in Ethiopia. Credit: UNICEF Ethiopia

APRA Study

The APRA Ethiopia team assessed how COVID-19 has affected the rice value chains in Ethiopia based on surveys conducted in June-July and October, 2020, with a third round planned for February, 2021.

The impact of COVID-19 on the rice value chain originates from (i) the public restrictive measures implemented by the Government (via the State of Emergency declared from March-August 2020) and local authorities, which were related with the movement of people and goods; control of food prices and other goods; and a reduction of public services, (ii) the type and extent of responses in the commercial behaviours of the different actors of the rice value chain, and (iii) overall global trends in response to the challenges .

The results indicate that nearly all rice farmers reported that they are aware of COVID-19 along with the preventive measures such as social distancing and wearing of facemasks but very few abide by such measures. Many households reported reduced movements within and outside of villages due to the restrictions, which has resulted in certain changes in roles among household members, such as care and farm responsibilities.

Impact on rice production

Though there was limited impact on rice production activities due to farmers not fully abiding to COVID-19 restrictions, there was a considerable decrease in the availability of agricultural inputs with significant increase in input prices. There is shift in the commercial behaviour of actors of the rice value chain due to the mobility restrictions and import challenges linked with the export ban by major exporting countries mainly India and Pakistan and to some extent Vietnam, and increasing prices of paddy and milled rice. These have resulted in concerns about food nutrition and insecurity among many farmers.

Parpoiled rice on display in Wereta, Ethiopia. Credit: Abebaw Assaye

Decline in household rice consumption

There is also decline in rice consumption both in terms of frequency and volume of consumption in urban context. Comparing the changes observed in Addis Ababa in August 2019 with August 2020, about 21 per cent of respondents stopped consumption and almost the same proportion of respondents began consuming rice. The frequency of rice consumption per week has declined on average of 1.11 days per week to 0.88 days per week for each household. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 79 per cent of households had either stopped or reduced the volume of rice consumed.

Way forward

Given the declining trend in rice self-sufficiency over the last 10 years, the emerging challenges related with COVID-19 both for the domestic production and rice import, boosting domestic production and productivity of rice alongside enhancing the value chain performance are crucial. This demands the implementation of different interventions to boost domestic rice production and productivity along with market regulatory measures.

Specifically, enhancing the adoption of rice-related technologies (improved varieties, pre-harvest, harvest and post-harvest technologies, and application of recommended agronomic practices), expansion of rice production through improved access to irrigations, modernisation of rice processing industry, and improving an enabling policy environment for increased investment in rice sector.

Feature photo: Rice producers and processors display their rice products in Wereta, Ethiopia.

Please note: During this time of uncertainty caused by the COVID19 pandemic, as for many at this time, some of our APRA work may well be affected but we aim to continue to post regular blogs and news updates on agricultural policy and research.