“The rice plant produces only rice seeds; it does not produce sand, stones, or other foreign materials,” Dr. Tareke Berhe from Ethiopia wryly observed, referring to the low quality of local rice sold in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
Dr. Berhe, who has long been associated with rice development in the region, promotes “from plant to plate,” an approach that emphasizes the significance of all the components in the rice value chain, namely, input, supply, processing, and marketing.
In Africa, rice has become an increasingly popular food as it is tasty and quick to cook. However, most of the rice eaten on the continent is actually imported from Asia. African-grown rice has failed to compete with imports because large-scale local rice production has been weak and urban consumers have become used to the grain and sensory qualities of imported rice. One of the major challenges for Africa is therefore how to produce sufficient and affordable rice that suits the preferences of its fast-growing and increasingly urbanized population.
Grain quality does not just depend on the variety of rice, but also on the crop production environment, harvesting, processing, and milling systems. Considerable amounts of rice produced get lost in inefficient postharvest systems in many African countries.
Locally milled rice is generally of poor quality and is consumed mainly in rural areas. Often, it tends to have stones and people don’t have time to clean their rice before cooking it. Even when it is of acceptable quality, it doesn’t sell well in cities, where consumers have been used to imported rice. For some people, eating imported rice has become a status symbol.
Several countries, however, have started focusing on improving the milling, packaging, and marketing of local rice, and developing public awareness campaigns to promote it. In Ghana, for example, a marketing campaign called “Eat Ghana Rice” was recently launched to encourage people to buy local rice. The successful campaign included advertisements in newspapers, on radio, and on billboards showing the president eating local rice.
Issues related to rice quality and how this affects consumers’ preference for local and imported rice were also examined, as local rice was often cheaper by 30% or more than imported rice, mainly because of its lack of cleanliness. The studies recommended a comprehensive approach to revitalize the Nigerian rice sector by improving the efficiency of operators at the stages of production, processing, and marketing. They emphasized quality and branding to increase the competitiveness of local rice.With support from USAID, AfricaRice has carried out a series of studies in collaboration with the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research to better understand the factors explaining consumers’ shift to imported rice in Nigeria.