The need for rice sector modernisation: a key outcome of the Ethiopian National Rice Platform Meeting

Dawit Alemu, The 2021 Annual National Rice stakeholders’ platform meeting, hosted by the National Rice Secretariat at the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), was held on 19 April in both Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar, concurrently. The meetings were divided into two locations to accommodate wider stakeholders while abiding by the COVID-19 restrictions currently in place. The participants were drawn from MoA, the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, Bahir Dar University, Amhara Regional Bureau of Agriculture (BoA), regional agricultural research institutes, private actors (such as machinery manufacturers and importers), development partners (MEDA, AgroBig, and JICA), farmers from Fogera plain, and APRA Ethiopia team members.

The timing of this meeting was appropriate, as many different initiatives and plans are in the early phases of their implementation by the government. Specifically, (i) the government’s new 10-year rice development strategy (2020–2030), (ii) the new initiative related to rice import substitution and (iii) reinstating the importation of rice through Franco-Valuta privilege, in addition to other priority commodities (edible oil, wheat, milk and sugar). These initiatives create opportunities, but also present potential challenges, which were important to discuss, such as (i) the need to have adequate implementation capacity and (ii) competition from imported rice.

The presentations and key discussion points during the meeting were related to (i) the overview of the recently approved national rice development strategy (2020–2030), (ii) existing experiences in modernisation of irrigation, mainly with regard to solar pumps and diesel pumps, and (iii) rice processing technologies, primarily in terms of parboiling, and (iv) technologies on value addition on rice by-products (charcoal making).

Overall, the discussions concluded with an emphasis on the need to modernise rice production and processing through wider adoption of rice technologies if domestic rice is to become competitive with imported rice. In this regard, the discussions can be summarised into (i) how to capacitate local manufacturers (both private and government organisations) to further improve the quality of the designed/adapted technologies and their wider multiplications, (ii) how to ensure improved access to these available technologies considering the current trend of expansion of rice to the three major rice ecosystems (lowland, upland and irrigated rice ecosystems), and (iii) what role different actors, especially those in the public sector, should play in this regard.

In conclusion, it was agreed that respective stakeholders, specifically the MoA and regional BoA, will lead further efforts to address the key issues discussed, along with (i) documentation and sharing of information about various available technologies, (ii) documentation of existing experiences in ensuring access to finance for smallholder rice farmers to facilitate better adoption of rice technologies, (iii) engagement with different organisations to facilitate access to finance, (iv) the MoA and Regional BoA to oversee and advise on the types of irrigation pumps most appropriate for the different types of irrigation facilities (shallow and deep wells), and (v) engagement with  relevant organisations like Agricultural Transformation Agency and the agricultural mechanisation directorate of MoA to address the challenges of importing diverse models of rice-related machineries that generate issues such as difficulty accessing required spare parts, demanding different maintenance skill, and overall costliness.

The key outcome of the meeting was related to the need to modernise the rice sector, not only through improved adoptions of  technologies but also through a supply of skilled labour for production and processing activities, as documented in various APRA research outputs (APRA – WP 51; APRA – WP 44; and APRA Brief 22). Finally, the need for regular and continuous organisation of the rice stakeholders’ platform was recognised in addressing the emerging challenges, through effective collaboration and the sharing of responsibility among relevant stakeholders.