ZIMBABWE could cut annual rice importation expenditure of over $100 million and save the much-needed foreign currency, if the country starts commercial rice production.
BY MTHANDAZO NYONI
The country imports over 95% of its rice despite having ample production capacity underpinned by growing domestic demand for the crop.
According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency latest report, the country splashed $13,1 million on rice imports in February 2018 alone.
Last year, more than $98,9 million was spent between January and November.
This is a cause for concern given the country’s precarious foreign currency situation, which has left many industries on the brink of collapse.
Statistics show that the Zimbabwe produces around just a tonne of rice annually, while it imports over 250 000 tonnes.
Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement deputy minister, Davis Marapira, said the government was conducting a research to find out which type of rice could be grown in the country.
“It’s actually our policy that we should not import things that we can grow locally and the rice is one of the crops, which we have to grow locally so that we save our foreign currency. So our research department is busy researching on the best rice which we can grow locally and which can produce better results,” Marapira said.
“Better results in terms of yields per hectare. Like in other countries rice is doing 10 to 15 tonnes per hectare. So we want to research on rice, which we can grow here in Zimbabwe and be able to achieve at least 10 tonnes per hectare,” he said.
Annual demand for rice in Zimbabwe increased by 300% from 50 000 tonnes in 2007 to 200 000 tonnes in 2016, according to the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union director, Jeremiah Tevera said the country had been growing rice albeit on a small scale.
“It hasn’t been practised extensively although there is a research that is going on for summer rice,” he said.
Tevera said countries that produce rice have got abundant moisture.
“We have such places in the country but are dotted. We cannot afford to do irrigated rice at the moment due to high electricity costs, water and inputs among others,” he said.
Tevera said Zimbabwe should also do research on the appropriate knowledge of harvesting.
Department of Agricultural Technical and Extension Services Matabeleland North provincial officer, Dumisani Nyoni, said the demand for rice was high in the country; and farmers should grow it.
“The diet has changed and people now prefer rice compared to isitshwala. What’s happening is that we are doing a research to come up with varieties of rice, that we can grow in our region. People have been growing rice but on a very small scale. Measures are there to grow the crop locally,” he said.
Recently, Lands, Agriculture, Rural Resettlement minister, Perrance Shiri (pictured) said the government, together with Seed Co, were carrying out final feasibility studies of rice growing and were touring various rice-growing countries to acquaint themselves with technology and viable methods of growing the cereal.
This could be good news for the country because it will help cut annual rice importation expenditure of over $80 million.
Shiri said a team of experts from his ministry have already gone to Egypt to familiarise themselves with rice production in one of Africa’s largest producer.
He said preliminary research has shown that the country can produce rice using hybrid varieties without any problem.
With hybrid varieties, Egyptian farmers have improved average rice production to almost 10 tonnes per hectare.
Agricultural experts say rice is now the leading provider of food calories in West Africa and Madagascar and it is now the second largest source of food energy in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole.