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Africa has the highest reserves of untapped natural resources for food production, especially water and land. Over 130 million hectares in inland valleys are suitable for rice production, but only about 10 million are currently being used. Africa can substantially boost its food production, especially for smallholder farmers, if the region develops agri-food systems that are productive and resilient, providing balanced nutrition especially for women and children.

Our efforts in the region are geared towards contributing to food and nutrition security, and economic growth through innovative science, sustainable agri-food systems, and transformative partnerships. We focus on developing and deploying high-yielding and locally-adapted rice varieties and context suitable best management practices. These efforts aim to curb reliance on rice imports and will significantly contribute to Boosting Africa’s rice sector, an Africa-wide rice development strategy.

Challenges in Africa

  • Unreliable water sources in a region where rainfed farming still dominates rice production systems
  • Low-yielding and less adapted rice varieties susceptible to pests and diseases and sensitive to adverse weather and soil conditions
  • Traditional production and processing systems
  • Lack of affordable agrochemicals specially fertilizers
  • Insufficient local agricultural policies to enable significant shifts
  • Climate change resulting in extreme drought
  • Labor shortage more women engaged in farming
  • Limited opportunities for women and Youth
  • Inadequate post-harvest management practices and storage
  • Lack of good market opportunities

IRRI's strategy in Africa

Climate-smart rice varieties

In collaboration with AfricaRice and national partners, we released 15 climate-smart rice varieties in several African countries. These varieties are more resilient and will reduce risks of crop failures and significantly enhance productivity. We also initiated system-based improvements through good agronomy, mechanization, postharvest and value addition, including better processing, packaging, branding and marketing.

Rice policy and systems

We will enable the development of strategic and effective seed systems by strengthening the private sector role and catalyzing enabling policies for engagement. These policies should facilitate faster varietal replacement and formal seed systems to provide high quality seeds, availability of inputs (especially fertilizers and other agrochemicals), and credit and marketing channels to support the growth of the African rice sector.

Research and delivery targets

Modern breeding approaches will be employed to facilitate faster development of tailored rice varieties, with broader adaptation and shorter durations for intensive systems. Developing resilient varieties with high yield and quality will encourage farmers to invest in inputs and take better care of their crops, with the target of doubling productivity. Productive and profitable agri-food systems. Management strategies need to be developed to maximize the potential of the new varieties within efficient and sustainable production systems that optimize resource use and augment farmers’ revenues. Considerable gains could be made by replacing the current traditional systems with modern agronomic principles and practices. Bringing in new crops and vegetables will improve nutrition and income.

Building effective seed systems

Seed systems need to be built and strengthened, allowing improved rice varieties to be accessed by farmers in a timely manner. Public sector is relatively weak compared with Asia, wherein the role of private sector becomes indispensable. Strengthening the private sector’s capacity and engagement could also facilitate provision of fertilizers and other agrochemicals.

Capacity strengthening across the value chain

Unlike Asia, rice is relatively young in Africa, and only recently it became a priority crop. Enhancing the capacity for rice research is therefore indispensable for rice sector development. A critical mass of post graduate researchers is needed to lead local activities of partners, including private sector and NGOs. Technical staff could be trained through short-term hands-on courses to fill in the current gaps in expertise.

Adoption of innovation

Efforts are ongoing to integrate rice industry innovations into the local rice value chain, through partnerships, education, and technology development and transfer, to maximize impact and produce substantive benefits for rice farmers, producers, and consumers.

Countries where IRRI is active


Rice has emerged as an important food staple in Burundi. Estimated land area currently being used for rice production includes about 5,000 hectares in the irrigated Imbo plain, 15,000 hectares in the non-irrigated Imbo plain, and 30,000 hectares in the Moso lowland. Between 1984 and 2011, rice production increased from 18,000 to 75,000 tons per year – a 316% increase in 27 years. Read more


Since its introduction in 1907 in Kenya, rice has become the third most important cereal crop after maize and wheat. Due to the progressive change in eating habits of Kenyans, particularly in more urban areas, the annual consumption of rice is increasing at a rate of 12% in the country. Moreover, the national rice consumption is estimated at 538,000 metric tons compared to an annual production of 112,800. With a projected population growth rate of 2.7% per year, the estimated annual national need can reach up to 570,490 tons by 2030. Read more


Rice is one of the major crops for production in Mozambique, along with maize, wheat, and sorghum. However, rice consumption has increased rapidly in recent years, from 86 thousand tons in 1990 to 519 thousand tons in 2010, at an annual growth rate of 8.6%. This shift in consumer preference, like other African countries, is attributed to urbanization and rice’s convenience in preparation. Read more


In Tanzania, rice is the second most important food and commercial crop after maize with significant national importance as a source of employment, income, and food security for millions of rural households. The country has a rapidly growing population and a political ambition to achieve rice self-sufficiency through raising productivity and expanding production to high potential areas. Read more

Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA)

The project Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) was started by IRRI at the end of 2007 in collaboration with AfricaRice to develop and deliver rice varieties that are tolerant to abiotic stresses for the millions of farmers in rainfed rice-growing environments in Asia and Africa.

STRASA, conceived as a 10-year project, delivered the improved varieties to at least 18 million farmers on the two continents. The project ends boasting of significant spillover effects for non-participating countries particularly on the use of developed stress-tolerant rice varieties and participation to a regional cooperation on seed exchange agreement.