Senegal Looks to Bolster Rice Production amid Threat of Famine   

By: Gerelyn Terzo of Sharemoney 

Food security is a global issue that has been thrust into the spotlight amid major global events of late, ranging from the health crisis to Russia’s prolonged war in Ukraine. However, the Western African nation of Senegal is at a particularly critical juncture as it strives to strengthen its rice production to become less dependent on the international community, mainly Asia, for its food.

Senegal has already been bolstering its rice production in recent years in an attempt to wean itself off of imports. However, rice production is only half of the solution, as growers in the country must learn how to produce a better crop so that locals will prefer to eat it over imported rice.

Otherwise, the population of 17.8 million and growing will continue to prefer imported rice, considering the local crop from the Valley is riddled with stones and residue. In fact, broken rice is a staple in the Senegalese diet, despite its low quality. However, in some dishes, broken rice can absorb sauces better than its unbroken counterparts, which improves its use case. Research shows that

Meanwhile, it hasn’t been too long since the world faced its last food crisis around the time of the Great Recession, after which time Senegal increased its rice output to become more independent. However, the effort to increase Senegal’s rice production has been akin to turning the Titanic, as those involved must dislodge the country from a centuries-long dependence on imports.

To complicate things, the Western African region’s population, including Senegal’s, has been growing hand over fist. As the country’s population has grown, so too has demand for grains like rice over the years, with consumption increasing twofold in the decade leading up to 2020. In that period, Senegal’s rice production stood at 1.3 million tons, according to The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) projections. The country remains heavily dependent on rice imports today.

Meanwhile, Africa already comprises 17% of the global population. In less than three decades, 25% of the world’s population is expected to reside on the continent of Africa. As it stands now, two-fifths of Africa’s citizens are under the age of 14, while for most African nations, the median age is under 20.

This unprecedented growth has left Senegal grappling with feeding its own, leaving it vulnerable to the whims of exporting nations. For example, last year, Senegal received approximately 66% of its rice from India. Now, with the headwinds of the war in Ukraine coupled with the lingering pandemic, India has slashed its exports amid soaring inflation and the threat of facing domestic food shortfalls.

On the plus side, for the past 10 years, Senegal’s agriculture industry has been working with experts from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), a development agency, on how to perfect their rice growing skills. According to project lead Yoshihiko Ogata quoted by Reuters, there’s no real difference in the potential for rice in Senegal vs. that cultivated in Japan. Instead, the distinction is in the way that the rice is grown. Senegalese farmers, he says, must focus more on quality so that there are fewer broken kernels and grit.

“What’s different is the attitude of farmers toward rice growing. I think that will change,” he said.

The Japanese team has shared the Asian country’s irrigation tactics and harvesting strategies with the Senegalese. The goal is to grow an overall better quality of rice so that there will be less of a need or desire to purchase it from the international community.

Nevertheless, the broader Western African region is not expected to be able to keep pace with rice demand from a rising population. The ECOWAS predicts that rice consumption in the region is poised to reach 22 million tons in just over three years, up 40% vs. levels from just half a decade ago. And as long as Senegal locals believe that imported rice tastes better, the nation faces an uphill battle in righting the ship.

Senegal’s Food Insecurity

As Senegal attempts to strengthen its agricultural production, its population also suffers from food insecurity. Senegal has a food security rate of 54.3%, placing it toward the bottom of a list of Africa’s 10 most food-secure nations as of 2021. Also on the list is Ghana at 62.8%, Botswana at 63.8%, Egypt at 64.05%, and South Africa in the top spot with a food-security rating of 67.03%, according to Africa View Facts.

Meanwhile, the war in Russia has only made things worse for Senegal, as food and fertilizer prices, which were already escalated due to the pandemic, have risen even higher. Russia is the world’s largest fertilizer export; therefore, Africa, which was already grappling with rising prices before the Ukraine invasion, has been hit hard. The continent has come up 2 million tons short on fertilizer in 2022, the price tag for which translates to $11 billion in lost food production.

Other nations around the world are stepping up to fill the gap. For example, Morocco has donated 25,000 tons of fertilizer to the Senegalese grower community, helping to provide some relief in the face of soaring prices. OCP Group, a Morocco-based phosphate rock miner, delivered the fertilizer to Senegal’s Ministry of Agriculture, located just outside of the capital city of Dakar, in October in an attempt to help the nation in its fight against insecurity. In turn, the fertilizer will be sold to Senegalese farmers at a discounted rate.

The relief couldn’t have come too soon, with Senegal’s President, Macky Sall, warning recently that without proper access to fertilizer for its farmers, the African continent was in danger of facing a famine.

Senegal’s economy was growing at a rate of 6% before the pandemic hit, and even at the height of the health crisis managed to expand by 1.3%. Considering that a growing percentage of Africa’s population is youth, countries like Senegal are keenly focused on trying to become more secure for future generations.

Meanwhile, Senegal is still in recovery mode from the pandemic and is looking for ways to provide jobs — including in the agricultural sector, as the country modernizes its equipment. Rice production is one rung in the ladder for Senegal’s food security and potential economic growth, but considering its potential to feed the nation, it is an important one.

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