As more than 1,000 people marched in Dakar to protest high cost of living, Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade claims he has created a plan to make the country self-sufficient in rice by 2015.
He calls for a massive crop expansion and irrigation program that will increase rice production six-fold to 600,000 metric tons. The government estimates that 250,000 hectares of land are currently free in northern part of the country and the Casamance River valley. Irrigation shouldn’t be as difficult because rice is presently grown near the edge of the Senegal, Saloum and Casamance rivers, and irrigated from recessional flooding.
IRIN admitted that most agriculture experts they spoke to gave their tepid support for Wade’s targets, but nobody came out and guaranteed they would be met. One expert claimed the biggest problem will be increasing yields, but the Minister of Agriculture argued that Senegal’s rice yield of six metric tons per hectare is better than Thailand’s. (The United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization isn’t too certain about the government’s numbers.)
Then there’s the issue of money: One estimate calls for $335 million in funding is necessary for infrastructure costs and leveling the land. That amount presently equals the country’s entire agriculture budget.
Mark supplying credit for rice producers and processors as another issue. Like most West African farmers, Senegal’s rice producers buy supplies on credit and then payback the loans when they sell their crop. However, those with bad credit have been denied anymore loans, basically kicking them out of future rice production. One way to break the credit log jam would be for investors and donors to establish cooperative banks to work with farmers of all credit histories, says the Council on Non-Governmental Organizations and Development Support.
The biggest obstacle facing this project is that few Senegalese eat local rice. That's because local rice is hard to find in the country’s markets because it carries a bigger price tag than imported rice from Thailand and Vietnam, who together control 75 percent of Senegal’s market. As world rice prices have hit record highs, people must shell out more to continue eating the grain.
Rice dependency remains a problem throughout the continent, says the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. A little more than half of the rice produced in Africa is consumed by local people, the group says. In many countries, rice imports have increased lockstep with rice demand. The group says it is working with farmers from different countries to create stress-tolerant rice seeds that are palatable to local tastes.