Transforming the rice sector in Ethiopia: Lessons from APRA Programme

Written by: Hannington Odame and Dawit Alemu

The APRA Ethiopia team held a national event to discuss the country’s rice sector, including the trends in the production, import and consumption of rice, the key challenges facing the sector, and the policy and development lessons for addressing the identified challenges. In the first of a two-part blog series, we present the key discussion points and takeaways resulting from this event, titled “Rice Sector Transformation Event in Ethiopia – Lessons from APRA Programme”. The event, held on 29th November 2021 at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), was a critical presentation of the APRA Ethiopia team’s research over the last five years. Read the second in this two-part blog series, here.

The event was attended by 35 participants, who joined both in person and online, from the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), the Agricultural Transformation Institute (ATI), EIAR, Regional Agricultural Research Institutes (OARI, ARARI and SARI), and development partners including Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Ethiopia, EthioRice and Mennonite Economic Development Associates Ethiopia. The programme covered a synthesis presentation of the key findings of APRA Ethiopia by Dawit Alemu, followed by a moderated discussion on the way forward by Mandefro Nigussie, CEO of ATI, Ethiopia.

Key findings

The presentation highlighted a number of aspects of the Ethiopian rice sector that need attention, and sought to explain the factors that have led to the challenges currently facing the sector. Namely, the rate of rice importation is accelerating more rapidly than that of domestic production, which has led to a decline in national rice self-sufficiency from about 70 per cent in 2008 to a mere 24 per cent in 2019. This trend indicates the huge burden rice is putting in the meagre foreign currency reserves of the country, where rice imports cost about US$200 million in 2019. The key factors for the limited competitiveness of domestic rice and declining trend in the level of self-sufficiency are found to be:

  • Rice production and productivity remains low – national average is only 2.96MT/ha.
  • Huge competition of imported rice with domestic rice – hard to compete on quality.
  • The limited expansion of the relative successes in inclusive agrarian changes in Fogera Plain to other rice hubs, mainly in terms of enhanced food security, social inclusion, rural-urban linkage, and rural labour market development.
  • Shortage of pre-harvest mechanisation and post-harvest processing technologies – milling, storage, transport, etc.
  • Inadequate market development to link to both domestic and international value chains.
  • Lack of skilled human resources and training resources in rice research and development.
  • Rice commercialisation has caused a decline in the production of livestock and crops such as pulses, especially in the lowland rice zones (Fogera Plain).

Following the presentation of the above obstacles facing the rice sector’s success, the following key policy issues emerged: 

  • The success of rice commercialisation in Fogera Plain leads to important policy and development questions: “Why are other areas in Ethiopia not as successful in this endeavour?” and “Why are the levels of national self-sufficiency continuously declining?”
  • The need to enhance the production and productivity of rice, along with its competitiveness with imported rice.
  • The key factors to enhance the competitiveness of domestic rice are to:
  • Enhance the full operationalisation of the National Rice Research and Training centre to ensure the availability of trained manpower in the production, processing, and marketing of domestic production.
  • Address the challenges arising from restrictive land and its use policy.
  • Ensure the competitiveness of local rice, both in terms of price and quality, compared to imported rice through adequate research and development efforts.
  • Develop incentive mechanisms for farmers and agro-processors to produce quality rice.
  • Modernise and build the capacity of rice processors, and standardise the key requirements for the licensing of rice processing facilities.
  • Improve the performance of marketing systems – not only for rice, but also for other crops (such as vegetables), which are the main contributors to smallholder rice farmers’ incomes.

Design implementation strategy with strong monitoring, evaluation and learning, and proper alignment of all relevant stakeholders.

Summary takeaway messages

Rice is an important strategic crop in Ethiopia, and its importance has led to the development of the National Rice Strategy Plan (2020 – 2030). There is an opportunity for follow-up activities, which calls for contributions by government, private sector, and civil society in the following areas:

  1. Revitalise the functioning of the national steering committee to overlook the implementation of the National Rice Development Strategy (NRDS) II, 2020–2030, both at the national and regional levels.
  2. Develop a national rice flagship programme that guides the implementation of the NRSD considering the specificities of the identified seven rice hubs in the NRDS II.
  3. Explore adequately how the private sector can engage proactively in rice commercial farming, processing, technology importation and demonstration, etc.
  4. Strengthen the collaboration with (i) Coalition for African Rice Development, of which Ethiopia has been a member since 2008, (ii) AfricaRice, of which Ethiopia has been a member since 2016, and (iii) the International Rice Research Institute, EthioRice project (2020 – 2025), which is the second phase supported by JICA Ethiopia.
  5. Ensure alignment of all rice-related initiatives through the flagship programme.