COTONOU, AFRICA — Noting that lack of mechanization is seriously undermining the productivity and competitiveness of rice in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), representatives of rice stakeholders in the region met recently to develop a roadmap for sustainable mechanization of the rice sector.

The stakeholders emphasized that small equipment, such as 2-wheel tractors, row seeders, mechanical threshers, small combine harvesters and small mills need to be tested, and where possible manufactured locally.

National governments were urged to consult research organizations when importing machinery to ensure that in addition to being effective and durable, the technology is well-adapted to local rice-growing conditions and can be serviced and repaired locally.

“According to conservative estimates based on recent surveys in 18 countries in SSA, cutting by half the on-farm post-harvest losses through the use of improved technologies would lead to a saving of 0.9 million tons of milled rice,” said Dr. Marco Wopereis, deputy director general for research, Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice), which hosted the meeting at its research station in St. Louis, Senegal.

“The amount of rice saved is equivalent to nearly 17% of rice imports into the region and has a real value of $410 million in 2011. This can help lift about 2.8 million persons in rice farming households out of poverty,” Wopereis said.

Promising technologies for high labor-intensive activities, such as land preparation, seeding, weeding, harvesting, and processing of rice and sustainable approaches for their introduction, testing and out-scaling were presented at the meeting.

The ASI thresher-cleaner, which has been adapted and introduced by AfricaRice in collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), national extension services and local manufacturers in several countries of the region, was cited as a successful example. ASI has received high recognition in the region, including the Senegal Presidential Award and praises from the Chad government.

The participants agreed that the key factors for a sustainable mechanization program include not only appropriate technologies but also sound business principles, local ownership, dealer support, government backing and local training in the use and maintenance of equipment.

Key recommendations targeted to various stakeholders were made. These include the need to:

• Develop coherent strategies and policies to boost mechanization in rice-based systems.
• Reduce taxes and duties on imported machinery and raw materials.
• Provide access of local manufacturers and end-users to credit.
• Facilitate south-south cooperation and public-private sector collaboration in mechanization.
• Introduce and adapt promising prototypes in partnership with local manufacturers.
• Build local capacity in the use, development and maintenance of equipment.

Dr. Joe Rickman, Regional Coordinator for IRRI's activities in East and Southern Africa, highlighted the need to develop simple business models for small-scale mechanization and to enhance collaboration between Africa and Asia in this field.

“The time is right for mechanization in the rice sector in Africa, but we need to do a much better job in testing imported and locally manufactured equipment and recommending modifications for local conditions,” Rickman said, referring to the large number of imported agricultural machines that lie abandoned across SSA because of inappropriate design, lack of spare parts or costly maintenance.

In addition to AfricaRice and IRRI, the participants included representatives of national research and extension organizations of seven countries (Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Uganda) as well as government officials, local and international farm equipment manufacturers, local dealers and rural credit providers.

Representatives from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement (CIRAD) and the Coalition for African Rice Development (CARD) also attended.

The meeting was supported by the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) — a CGIAR Research Program — that includes hundreds of partners across the world. IRRI is the overall leader of GRiSP, while AfricaRice is leading the GRiSP activities in Africa.