As part of the 2021 East African Rice Conference (EARC), national workshops were held in six African countries: Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
EARC aimed to identify policy reforms to transform Africa’s rice sector through scientific innovations, and the national events provided an opportunity to assess such opportunities in each of the six countries, individually.
A strong, inclusive, innovative national rice sector can boost Uganda’s food and income security.
In an effort to make this a reality, the National Agriculture Research Organization (NARO), non-governmental organisations, Development Cooperation Projects working on rice, experts, researchers, businessmen and senior government officials from Uganda’s different government ministries, convened at a national rice conference in Uganda.
The government officials were drawn from Uganda’s Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, and the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development.
Other participants were drawn from Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Rice Association of Uganda and private companies engaged in rice production, processing and exporting.
The conference, held on 18th May 2021, discussed six key topics important to the development of the country’s rice sector: rice research and development, inclusive markets and value chains, rice-based livelihoods and gender and youth integration, integrated rice sector development in a changing climate, inclusive finance and investment, and agricultural policy reforms.
The conference provided a foundation for partnerships, linkages and growth of the rice sector in Uganda where it is a priority crop.
“Rice is important for food and income security not only in Uganda but in the entire East African region,” emphasised Ronald Ssegawa Gyagenda, undersecretary, MAAIF who spoke on behalf of the Permanent Secretary Mr. Pius Wakabi Kasajja.
Outcomes of thematic discussions
The conference participants discussed priority themes, such as innovations in rice mechanisation and post-harvest management, the need for a regional centre of excellence for rice research and development, and rice commercialisation and livelihood outcomes.
The participants also reviewed gender livelihood dynamics in rice-based food systems, jobs and employment opportunities, integrated rice seed sector development, marketing and value addition.
Other important themes were sustainability and resilience in local and national rice systems, improving access to credit and finance for small producers and processors, rice sector financing and public-private partnerships, agriculture policy reforms and foresight, and dietary changes and household food and nutrition security.
Following the discussions, participants within the various themes suggested interventions that could deal with the challenges which affect rice production in Uganda.
For instance, development and promotion of partnerships, scale-out and regulation of technologies already developed by NARO would ensure quality, efficiency, productivity and profitability of agro-engineering technologies.
Further, optimising research funding, promotion of digital innovations, strengthening capacity building and cross-border collaboration along the rice value chain will ensure that Uganda continues to be an inter-regional destination for training.
Improved collection and dissemination of information, establishment of a national rice platform, and building the capacity of the rice associations to effectively engage the government to review rice policies would lead to harmonised favourable rice policies.
This would increase domestic production, which has been falling over the past 5 years, reduce imports and increase prices of paddy rice which, like production, has been falling.
Promotion of labour-saving technologies to increase youth and women participation in decision-making at household and policy level, strengthening marketing capacity of producer associations and cooperatives would eliminate gender disparities in incomes between men and women.
It would also improve food and nutrition security and change gender roles in which women dominate production, which is more labour-intensive, while men dominate marketing.
Harmonising government and partner approaches to increase youth employment and support for youth capacity building programmes would reduce poverty among 61 per cent of Uganda’s youth, who are employed in the agriculture sector.
Support for large-scale rice producers in the production of Quality Declared Seed, review of regulations and roll-out of a digital seed tracking system would increase the quantities of foundation seed for most rice varieties.
The conference also proposed the promotion of sustainable rice farming systems to harmonise rice development initiatives with climate sustainability best practices.
Further, incorporation of the needs of rice value chain actors would build the capacity of smallholder farmers to access agricultural financing.
In addition, reviewing and strengthening the National Rice Development Strategy and fast-tracking the conclusion of the National Agricultural Finance and Insurance policy would streamline and harmonise ongoing government and partner investments in the rice sector.
In the same vein, promotion of innovative nutrition, integration of protein-rich foods and enhancing technologies like bio-fortification would be important for diversification of rice diets.
The outcomes of the conference will promote further knowledge exchange on rice sector research and development at national and regional levels considering public, private and donor-supported initiatives to inform policymaking and implementation in the rice sector.
The multi-stakeholder collaboration arising from the conference will be useful for the achievement of national and regional rice self-sufficiency, increased food and nutrition security, and alleviation of poverty in the country.