Rice Farming and its Import Bill in Zimbabwe
By Calvin Manika
In a restaurant or hotel, rice remains a common food item which most of the diners find tasty and easy to accommodate compared to the staple sadza. In weddings and parties, rice has a first preference despite other foods like spaghetti and macaroni. Rice can be used for breakfast, lunch or supper.
Unlike the past years where eating rice was a preserve for the hotels and important gatherings, most of Zimbabweans eat rice almost every day in various setups. Experts say despite the high demand in consumption, rice farming in Zimbabwe is low. The demand has been cited as the cause for high import bill in rice. In rare trial circumstances, communal farmers plant the crop in rural side wet fields while at commercial level, few farmers commit themselves in the farming of the crop next to the staple maize.
This publication’s findings show that the rice high import bill has been noted by the government and Zimbabwe intends to reduce its rice import expenses which have been billed at US$80 million per annum.
Since 2021, the government of Zimbabwe through the ministry responsible for agriculture and working with partners in the agricultural industry started the research, trails and efforts to intensify rice production locally. Working with Seed Co., the government did some research to ascertain tools and methods including technologies which can be used in rice production.
Zimbabwe took Egypt as a yardstick to assess its potential and opportunities in rice production. Egypt is one of Africa’s largest producers of rice. Zimbabwe is said to be producing around just a tonne of rice annually and import over 400 metric tonnes. The feasibility studies conducted showed that, Zimbabwe can use three varieties of rice found in China and Malawi. Rice production in Zimbabwe has a potential to meet the local demand and supply international markets.
Experts said feasibility studies are important but there is need for the government and its partners to educate farmers with expert education and supply them with inputs for a successful rice production. Last year, the Seed Co. successfully tested their seed rice in Pakistan and the varieties were favoured by the local conditions.
In May, this year the government decreed a statutory instrument 98 0f 2022 which wholly suspended customs duties on importation of basic commodities. The statutory instrument which was gazetted through the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, was with immediate effect. The statutory instrument amended the Customs and Excise (Suspension) Regulations, 2003 published in Statutory Instrument 257 of 2003. It is effective from 17 May 2022 to 16 November 2022.
Commenting on the gazette of the statutory instrument, a career expert in the areas of Customs and Excise border management, Rwatida Mafurutu said basic commodities are being imported duty free.
“Its effect on cross-border trade is to totally or wholly suspend payment of duty on cooking oil, margarine, rice, flour, salt, bath soap, laundry soap, washing powder, toothpaste and petroleum jelly during the said period, regardless of their country of origin and quantities (bulk and small). The basic commodities affected are those goods or products which people use in their day-to-day lives,” said Mafurutu.
The World bank report on Zimbabwe’s rice production and consumption shows that, the product complexity in rice is 1.92 and Zimbabwe is ranked 1000 / 1028. In 2020, the southern African country imported $98.4M in rice, becoming the 61st largest importer of rice in the world. Findings by this publication shows that, Zimbabwe’s rice imports come primarily from Pakistan ($36M), Thailand ($27.1M), Mauritius ($13.4M), South Africa ($10.4M), and Mozambique ($6.62M).
Zimbabwe’s rice production of less than or around a tonne is not sustainable for a country in the amidst of an economic depression. This has made a growing demand by experts for the country to grow its own rice. Seed Co. seems to have made a way in finding rice varieties which are suitable to Zimbabwe’s local dry-land farming conditions. The rice production roadmap opens prospects and hopes that the country will be adding rice to some of the food crops produced locally.
Last year, Seed Co released SCOP02 and SCOP04 rice varieties to farmers in the country. The success trail was part of the government’s efforts to reduce the import fees. The varieties passed the conditions of the local conditions. The initial project was licenced. In Southern Africa, Malawi, is the main producer of rice with an estimated 600 000 hectares of land that can be used for rice production producing 150 000 tonnes of rice per annum.
“Introducing rice as another staple and grain crop can be important for the Zimbabwean economy. Most of the rice worldwide is cultivated on dry land under irrigation. Zimbabwe must cope such strategies and maximise the benefits. This will reduce our reliance on rice imports,” said Makanka Chitau, a commercial farmer.
Worldwide, about 80-million hectares of rice are grown in irrigated areas. Experts say with irrigation Zimbabwe can have an agricultural revolution in rice production. Mostly, rice is commonly grown in wetlands, which for years some farmers felt that rice cannot be grown in Zimbabwe. Rice yields per hectare vary greatly; they range from roughly 3 tonnes to as high as 12 tonnes.
The Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO) indicates that, it takes roughly US$360 to grow 1 hectare of rice. Experts say if Zimbabwe fully embrace rice production, it can produce over 2 million tonnes every year. To produce 1 kilogram of rice needs about 2500 litres of water.