Rice intensification in West Africa

The Foundation is developing an ambitious rice intensification initiative. Its aim is to help establish food security in West Africa.

* Our flyer "Growing opportunities for smallholders in West Africa" introduces the rice intensification initiative. It is available in English and French. So is our factfile on farmer equipment service centers / centres d’exploitation de services mécanisés.
Since 2014, the Syngenta Foundation has partnered with AfricaRice to develop and test RiceAdvice. This app helps rice growers use fertilizer to best advantage. A recent study shows that following RiceAdvice recommendations can help raise yields markedly. Here's some background and a fuller 2016 report.  A 2017 media release brings the story up to date. 

Demand for rice is expanding very fast in West Africa, and the region imports more than half its needs. High demand is expected to continue, driven by urbanization and income growth. This presents an immediate opportunity for further development. Private investors and governments are keen to build up sustainable, competitive rice value chains.
Local smallholders are traditionally cut off from the value chain, and would benefit from private sector technology and investment. However, there are a number of barriers to competing with imports and taking advantage of this opportunity:

  • Low productivity.  There is limited access to hig- quality seeds, particularly adapted for each agro-ecological condition and specific consumer demand. Irrigated rice production still accounts for less than half of the total. The risks for rain-fed rice production remain high.
  • Poor quality. Farmer practices, soil preparation, processing and storage handling lag behind the standards in South Asia. Consumers therefore often prefer imported rice.
  • Weak business linkages. Producers have difficulty in accessing quality inputs. Distributors are often reluctant to provide credit, due to the high default rate. On the output side, current processing capabilities, often small-scale, tend to be underused. The high incidence of side-selling leads to insecure supply.
  • Labour force. Shortage of labour is the main reason for less efficient planting methods (e.g. broadcasting). The shortage of machinery makes it difficult for farmers to increase planting areas and increase productivity.
  • Payment and finance. Payment structure and access to finance are often inadequate for farmers' needs. Producers are often unable to purchase inputs at the right time, and in the right amounts. Lack of seasonal credit forces farmers to sell to middlemen at a low price.
  • Soil and water management. Very low quantities of organic matter are used in rice fields, resulting in low fertility levels. Improper water management often causes important production problems related to salinity.

Rising investment in agribusiness creates new opportunities, and can help overcome some of the issues. However, the challenge for agribusiness is to develop viable approaches to address productivity and quality gaps in rice and other communities in a sustainable way.

Program Objectives

SFSA has supported rice intensification projects in Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso in cooperation with AfricaRice since 2010. Yields have increased from 6 to 8 t/ha in the river delta of Senegal and from 4 to 6 t/ha in parts of Burkina Faso and Mali. Farmers are willing to adopt new technology and practices and connect with buyers. Land preparation and post-harvest-technologies developed in Asia have been adapted to local conditions. Experience gathered in these projects is relevant for the future SFSA Rice Program in West Africa.
The Foundation aims to facilitate farm links to the rice supply chain and increase product quality and yields. To achieve this, it proposes to develop a public-private partnership approach through an agricultural "hub & service" model, in cooperation with private investors and rice producer organizations. SFSA proposes to partner with rice agribusinesses and producer organizations in Ghana, Côte D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Senegal to lead the necessary on-farm support activities. The task is to help farmers develop the right skills and access the right inputs to increase productivity, and improve the quality of rice being produced. Farmers will benefit from higher margins as quality products are sold through more direct marketing channels.
Our rice program aims to raise smallholder income by 50% through the following improvements:
Make the rice supply chain more efficient and reliable: implement out-grower schemes, contracts and bulk purchase; enable smallholders to access inputs and equipment at affordable costs.
Optimize production and maximize quality to drive profitability: increase average rice yield by 20%; realize a 10% quality premium on price at least.
Reduce post-harvest losses by half, from around 30% to 15%: provide appropriate harvest equipment; reduce number of intermediaries; improve milling and handling.
The programmes in each country differ by agro-ecological zones (e.g. rainfed / lowland / irrigated), market access channels, stakeholders and demographics, as well as market dynamics and smallholder linkages. We therefore expect them to develop along different paths and provide different scale-up opportunities.
Support at farmer level will include assessment of needs, adaptation of training packages, establishment of demonstration plots. It will also involve and benchmarking and optimization of production systems, harvesting methods and post-harvest handling.  Special attention will be paid to compliance with relevant production quality standards.
SFSA also intends to use cloud-based mobile technology, including its advanced platform Farmforce. This agribusiness development tool links smallholders to agri-value chains by enabling traceability, compliance with standards, facilitation of agricultural extension, and input-output management. Farmforce will also help expand access to other services such as soil fertility management.  
Building sustainable partnerships
A number of activities will help to ensure long-term smallholder participation in market-led partnerships:

  • Trust-building. Initial field observations reveal a lack of trust between rice value chain actors. This is due to negative experience from the past, particularly with non-functional "cooperatives" and intransparent transactions. Our program will ensure adequate dialog and information-sharing.
  • Strengthening farmer organizations. In Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal, farmer organizations have only recently developed. In Ghana and Burkina Faso, they have so far been managed by state entities, and their capacities are limited. Out-grower selection procedures and cooperative development initiatives should aim to enhance farmer organization capacity, while recognizing that pursuing over-ambitious goals will be counterproductive.
  • Community development. In addition to direct benefits from the rice program, it is hoped that there will be a number of further indirect benefits. It is critical that the program links with other development initiatives in education, health and environmental protection.  
  • Focus on profitability and lowering transaction costs. To ensure full commitment of smallholders and other project partners, it will be important to create a win-win relationship, reduce transaction costs, and maximise profit all round.
  • Gender participation. SFSA will ensure participation of both female and male smallholders.

Additional information in French:
Lisez notre brochure pour les petits agriculteurs sur la production améliorée du riz (paddy) au Mali. 
Voici notre guide de formation "Production de semences de riz" (2015). Ce manuel est prévu pour les agents chargés de former des producteurs. Parmi les auteurs: Camille Renou, collaborateur de notre Fondation.