Helping to Promote Food Security and Sustainable Farming

Empowering Africa through Paddy Farming and Japan's Rice Cultivation Technologies


December 16, 2022


In August 2022, the 8th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD*1 8) was held. Led by the Government of Japan, the conference focused on development in Africa. During the conference, discussions were held on a variety of issues facing Africa, one of which was promotion of rice production. Africa has a low self-sufficiency rate and has to rely on imports for many of its staple crops, making stability in food supply a challenge. Many African nations are therefore promoting domestic rice production as one solution, and Japanese rice cultivation techniques have been attracting attention.

The Coalition for African Rice Development (CARD) was established at TICAD4 in 2008, with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) playing a central role. This coalition has resulted in a doubling of rice production in sub-Saharan Africa*2 in the last ten years. CARD Phase 2 has been launched with sights set on doubling production again, and a variety of initiatives are being launched. We spoke with Yusuke Haneishi, General Coordinator of the CARD Secretariat, about the current state of rice production in Africa and the outlook for the future.

  • *1.The Tokyo International Conference on African Development is an international conference launched and led by the Government of Japan with the theme of development in Africa. The eighth conference was held in Tunisia in August 2022.
  • *2. This term is used to describe the geographical area of the continent of Africa that lies south of the Sahara. According to the United Nations, it includes Sudan.

Africa, the Last Frontier

The population in Africa as of 2022 is around 1.4 billion, but it is expected to grow to 2.5 billion, or about one-fourth of the global population, by 2050. As for the median age, in 2021 it was around 48.4 years in Japan, but 19.7 years in Africa. Even in 2050, it will likely be around 25.

The size of this potential has led to Africa being called "the last frontier," and the size of its market is attracting attention from around the world.

Africa's population is projected to grow to almost twice today's levels in 30 years, and to be about three times as large in 80 years. The average age is also very low and is predicted to remain at below 25 in 30 years. (Source: United Nations "World Population Prospects 2022")
This graph shows Africa's population prospects compared with other regions. While Asia shows a downward trend after 2050, sub-Saharan Africa shows a rate of increase that far outpaces the rest of the world. (Source: United Nations "World Population Prospects 2022")

At the same time, Africa faces a mountain of issues, including poverty, political instability, and water and food shortages. Particularly with regard to food, when global grain prices rose in 2007 and 2008, importing food into Africa became difficult, and riots broke out in several areas. And with social changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, along with the predicted rapid population growth, increasing domestic production of staple crops such as rice, corn, and wheat and raising the self-sufficiency rate have become pressing issues.

Doubling Rice Production in 10 Years and Seeking Further Growth

In addition to grains, Africa's staple crops include cassava, bananas, and a variety of other foods. Rice has become particularly popular in recent years. Because rice can be prepared and stored easily, its consumption has skyrocketed in urban areas, and supply cannot keep up with demand.

This is a comparison of the production volumes of six staple crops in 1961 and 2020. Overall production has increased, but while other crops' positions in the rankings have remained the same, rice has jumped from sixth to third place, with production increasing nine times. This shows how demand for rice is increasing rapidly in tandem with economic growth and urbanization. (Source: FAOSTAT)

With this background in mind, the Japanese government launched CARD*3, its project to promote rice cultivation in Africa, at TICAD 4, which was held in Yokohama in 2008. CARD made its objective to double rice production in sub-Saharan Africa within 10 years, and this was achieved in 2018. With CARD Phase 2, which launched in 2019, the goal is to double rice production again by 2030.

  • *3. Coalition for African Rice Development. CARD was launched in 2008 with 23 sub-Saharan African member countries and 11 donors. Today it has grown to 32 member countries and 14 donor organizations, along with five Regional Economic Communities in Africa. The Japanese organization JICA plays a central role in its steering committee.

Yusuke Hanaishi, CARD's General Coordinator, describes the attention that Africa is now receiving from the world

“I think the term 'last frontier' has come to the forefront from the business viewpoint of developed countries, and Africa is now attracting attention because markets in other regions are already saturated. However, I feel that Africa could benefit greatly from this attention, so they are seizing this opportunity and working to put it toward economic growth.”

Yusuke Haneishi has been dispatched by JICA to serve as the General Coordinator for CARD.

Haneishi says that during CARD Phase 1 from 2008 to 2018, production increased largely by expanding the amount of crop acreage for rice, but easily accessible land with soil and water suitable for rice farming is becoming scarce. Therefore, for Phase 2 it will be necessary to increase the production volume per hectare.

On the other hand, the reality has come into view that simply increasing production volume does not guarantee a proportionate increase in self-sufficiency. As the graph below shows, despite production volume increases each year, the self-sufficiency rate has not increased much even in ten years.

Despite a 2x increase in rice production in Africa from 2008 to 2018 as targeted by CARD Phase 1, the self-sufficiency rate has remained flat. (Source: FAOSTAT; Self-sufficiency rate is calculated by the JICA Africa Department according to the definition by the FAO as Production / (Production + Imports - Exports).

“Self-sufficiency has remained stagnant because the increase in rice consumption has been covered mainly by the increase in rice imports. Even if farmers carefully tend to their fields, protect the crops from birds, and do their best to grow more rice, the market generally prefers low-cost, high-quality imported rice. This makes it difficult to create the virtuous cycle of more farmers growing rice leading to greater profits and higher self-sufficiency rates. This is now a very big challenge.”

“Quality Over Quantity” Approach to Rice Production is Needed

In order to remedy this situation and gain a commercial advantage over imported rice, Haneishi says a "quality over quantity" approach to rice production is now being required.

For CARD Phase 2, the RICE strategic approach outlined below was adopted to strengthen competitiveness of domestic rice in individual countries and promote further collaboration with the private sector.

The RICE Approach presents clear and concrete efforts for realizing rice production with "quality over quantity" from four perspectives.

Resilience means developing and spreading rice varieties and farming methods that are resistant to climate change. Industrialization involves promoting mechanization, making rice farming viable as a business, and supporting involvement and investment by the private sector. Competitiveness means increasing the competitive advantage of domestically-produced rice in terms of both quality and price. Along with efforts to increase production through the appropriate use of premium quality seeds, improved post-harvest processing technologies can be used to produce quality white rice without stones and cracks. Empowerment refers to the training being provided to increase household income and encouraging use of financing by small-scale farmers.

Haneishi says that the “I” and “C” elements of this RICE Approach are the keys to improving the quality of African rice.

Employees inspect Kubota combine harvester at the Mwea Rice Growers' Multipurpose Cooperative Society (MRGM) in Mwea, located about 100 kilometers from Nairobi and Kenya's largest rice growing area.
Mwea's largest rice mill, which is also part of MRGM.
A laboratory building at the Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) in Mwea. The researchers are using DNA analysis equipment with assistance from JICA to perform the DNA extraction and marking selection that is essential for modern rice research. Both researchers in this photo have experience studying in Japan and have acquired specialized skills.

CARD in this new phase has spent more time and effort in the facilitation of member countries’ discussions within each regional community.

“If a country does not have the capability to produce rice, it would be ideal if there were a system through which neighboring countries could supply the rice they have grown. I believe aiming for this kind of regional block-based self-sufficiency could help promote food security on the continent.”

CARD currently has five regional economic communities, namely the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Haneishi also says that promoting domestic rice production requires not only the private sector, but also implementation of effective government policies.

“For example, imposing tariffs on imported rice could be one of the instruments governments can use. It promotes their domestically produced rice by making it more price competitive against imported rice. This kind of effective policy action by African governments is expected to create an enabling environment where more private sector players invest in rice businesses and more farmers begin cultivating rice.”

He also talked about Japan's assistance for rice cultivation.

“Japan has a distinctive stock of technologies in rice cultivation, particularly with irrigated paddy farming, that gives it an advantage over other countries. That's why JICA plays such a central role in CARD. Kubota and other Japanese companies have outstanding technologies, so I hope we can put those advantages to use in expanding assistance and opening up new opportunities.”

Paddy Farming Supported by Japan Gives Africa Hope

Incidentally, there is an African country to which Japan has continuously provided financial assistance and technical cooperation for promoting rice cultivation since the 1970s, long before CARD was started, yielding positive results. It is the East African country of Tanzania. If you visit the Lower Moshi Irrigators Association at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, you may be surprised to see vistas of rice fields as far as the eye can see.

We spoke with Nicodemus Shauritanga, principal of the Kilimanjaro Agriculture Training Centre (KATC) located next to the Lower Moshi region, who provides technological guidance to farmers.

Left: Nicodemus Shauritanga stands at the entrance to the KATC (Kilimanjaro Agricultural Training Centre). Right: The KATC is located near the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania near the Kenyan border.

Shauritanga says that the irrigated rice cultivation project that began in this area in 1978 with the cooperation of the Japanese government has made it through several phases and continues to this day, and that KATC was established in 1994. Since then, this centre has been used as a base to teach basic techniques for irrigated rice cultivation to farmers in Tanzania and neighboring countries as well as others involved in improving and popularizing agriculture. The government has also set up similar training centre in six other locations in the country. Many of those who have learned at KATC and the other six centre have returned to their hometowns and passed on the techniques they learned to other farmers. These grassroots efforts have helped wet-rice paddy farming spread throughout Tanzania to both large-scale operations and small-scale farms.

This scenery from the Lower Moshi region would look like a rice paddy field seen in a Japanese granary if not for the mountains in the background and the baobabs and other trees only found on savannas. Farming here is being mechanized, with Kubota agricultural machinery playing a major role.

Irrigated rice cultivation requires high levels of technical capability, so it is currently practiced in few regions in Africa. Rain-fed rice production, which relies on rainwater in low-lying marshes and farmlands, is still the mainstream method, so Tanzania can be considered one of the few countries where irrigated rice cultivation has spread. Shauritanga explains the differences in results between the two techniques.

“Farms in the Lower Moshi region that practice irrigated rice cultivation yield about 7 tons per hectare on average, with some yielding as much as 10 tons per hectare. On the other hand, rain-fed rice production yields 2 tons per hectare at most. There is also a major difference in quality. Compared to rain-fed rice production, rice produced through irrigated cultivation tends to mature perfectly, so it is heavier and of better quality.”

Rice grown through irrigated cultivation in the Lower Moshi region has grains that are heavier and more uniform, and the difference in quality from rain-fed cultivation rice is apparent. It is also sold on the market at higher prices, and some is exported to neighboring countries.

The increase in yield and the superior quality of the rice makes it worth a lot more on the market. It has also led to significant changes in farmers' livelihoods, says Shauritanga.

“We have observed great changes since we started offering training to farmers. Farmers are now able to attend and get treated at hospitals and send their children to school. It's not rare to see farmers building new houses or owning cars or motorbikes. So their livelihoods have greatly improved.”

Shauritanga expresses his gratitude to JICA for their continued support from the beginnings of the rice development project. He says that he hopes to continue efforts to popularize irrigated farming.

Shauritanga gave the following comment when asked how agricultural machinery has contributed to farming in Tanzania.

“When the Lower Moshi irrigation project first started, most farmers harvest their crops by hand. Now many farmers are using Kubota combine harvesters. When they finish harvesting here, contracting business is used to move their combine harvesters to Mbeya, where more large-scale rice cultivation is taking place. Farmers have a tremendous amount of trust in Kubota's agricultural machinery, and I think their tractors and rice transplanters will become more common in the future.”

A Kubota combine harvester is put to use in the Lower Moshi region.

Haneishi, who we talked to earlier, says that Tanzania is now almost 100% self-sufficient in rice, and that markets in almost every town are stocked with domestically produced rice that looks very attractive and is sold in different price ranges according to its grade. “The government has proactively steered the rice industry, and more and more farmers who found out that producing quality rice increases its market value have started irrigated rice cultivation. And in order to increase yield and improve quality, they are pursuing mechanization and carefully selecting seeds. I think it is an ideal example that shows this cycle working extremely well.”

While many obstacles still must be overcome in order to connect promotion of rice production throughout Africa to a stable food supply, the success of paddy farming in Tanzania gives people hope that solving problems and making progress over time can help them reach their goal one day.

Just as Japan has built a relationship of trust with Tanzania over many years, the unique support capabilities that Japan can provide, which no other country can imitate, could be to make steady efforts while determining what is in the best interest of the aid recipient over the long term.

As a leading company in agriculture, Kubota continues to support development of rice cultivation and contribute to stabilizing the food supply for the benefit of the people of Tanzania, in Africa, and throughout the world.