Enhancing nutrition for a stronger, sustainable post-COVID-19 rice sector in Africa

In conjunction with the International Rice Research Institute, Africa Rice Centre, the Centre for Africa Bio-Entrepreneurship, the Coalition for African Rice Development, and Japan International Cooperation Agency, APRA co-convened and participated in the Independent Food Systems Dialogue.

The dialogue brought together stakeholders in Africa’s rice food system including producers, consumers, policymakers, and other value chain actors to explore ways of building sustainable rice value chains in a post-COVID 19 Africa.

Pathways for increased nutrition in Africa’s agri-food systems

The dialogue was especially timely now, as rice has become an important food crop in Africa, but the continent does not currently produce enough rice to meet its demand, which is expected to increase by about 30 million tonnes by 2035.

As players in Africa’s rice value chain focus on increasing rice production to meet this ever-increasing demand, there are concerns on the need to link production to the continent’s nutritional needs.

In this regard, the dialogue, which comprised of an online public forum with regional stakeholders and experts and breakout sessions, discussed

  • how to shift stakeholder perspectives to integrate nutrition and health into agricultural activities and research;
  • how Africa’s rice sector can respond to regional and global crises, including the 2007–2008 food crisis and the current COVID-19 pandemic, and the lessons that the sector players can learn to build back better; and
  • the evidence that policymakers and multisectoral partners respond to in the development and implementation of the necessary policies and programmes in response to these crises and to the surging increase in rice imports in Africa.

Dawit Alemu, Country Research Lead for APRA Ethiopia, noted that rice has been declared as an important crop for import substitution in Ethiopia, but like other African countries, its production faces challenges.

“Rice production in Africa experiences challenges, such as competition with imports, and each actor engages differently in the sector.

Besides, different African countries have rice development strategies, but their implementation remains challenging. Therefore, we need to look at the sector case by case to address these challenges,” says Alemu.

To address these challenges, the conference proposed the integration of nutrition in efforts to increase agricultural production.

This integration should include processing, nutrient diversification, fortification, use of fertilisers, adequate water supply, efficient distribution and post-harvest handling, financing, rice safety regulations, certification, inspection, support for women and youth, information, and incentives for actors to enhance the nutrition content of rice. 

Also important is the need to strengthen communication between the value chain actors, support informal markets, put in place infrastructure such as electricity, and ensure food safety from the farm to the fork through adequate infrastructure and innovations for effective drying, safe storage, packaging, and transportation.

The dialogue also proposed impact assessment and research which should yield good data to influence production and improve nutrition. Further, researchers should speak with one voice to influence policy and programming.

Conclusion

This dialogue provided a platform to consolidate efforts of players in Africa’s rice value chain to use timely, high-quality, and independent information to improve agricultural policy and practice to achieve inclusive sustainable agri-food systems in Africa, thereby contributing to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

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