The director general of Africa Rice, Baboucarr Manneh, has warned that overall food security outlook in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is quite worrisome, citing effects of rapid increasing population, climate change and the highly volatile world food markets.
He, however, acknowledged that over the last decade, many African countries registered good progress in increasing local food production especially rice - which is the main staple food for many West African countries.
He made this disclosure while addressing the National Rice Forum and Policy Dialogue held recently in The Gambia.
According to DG Manneh, the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of the Russia-Ukraine war have "alerted us urgently to strive for food sovereignty in Africa."
"More recently, the banning of exports of non-Basmati rice by India is additional evidence of the risk to food security due to over-dependence on food imports," he said.
According to him, since the launch of CARD Phase I in 2008, milled rice production in Sub-Saharan Africa doubled from 10.9 million tons to 21 million tons in 2022.
He added that during the same period, milled rice production in The Gambia rose briefly from 25,000 to 66,000 tons between 2008 and 2011 and then fell to 29,000 tons in 2022.
"This is explains the fact that during the same period, average yields in SSA increased from 1.99 to 2.26 tons/ha; whilst yields reduced by almost half from 1.12 to 0.69 tons/ha and total rice area in SSA expanded from 8.5 million to 14.5 million.
DG Manneh pointed out that this clearly shows the extent of the challenge "we are facing."
"This National Rice Forum is a great opportunity for us to clearly map out what needs to be done to continuously boost our rice production through judicious area expansion and improved agronomic and post harvest practices to improve yields and minimize post harvest losses," he reminded.
"Judging by the diverse mixture of the expertise gathered here today, "I am fully confident that by the end of this Forum tomorrow evening, "we shall produce a working document which will provide a road map for attaining rice self-sufficiency in The Gambia and how this should be resourced in the long term," he expressed.
He stated that attaining food self-sufficiency is like a marathon race - "it is winnable but to win it, one needs to be focused and determined. I wish to reassure you that as director general of Africa Rice, I will make sure that the Center accompanies you and the people of The Gambia towards the realization of this tough but noble goal of ensuring rice self-sufficiency in The Gambia by 2030."