ZIMBABWE – Zimbabwe plans to cut on its annual rice importation expenditure of up to US$80 million by embarking on commercial rice production in the next season or two, reports the Herald.

“Zimbabwe is a net importer of rice and spends about $80 million annually to import the cereal.

“We can cut our import bill by growing commercial rice locally and I am very happy that Seed Co are here (Rattray Arnold research station) and are working towards the commercial seed rice production which will see many farmers starting to grow rice at a commercial scale,” said Perence Shiri, the Lands, Agriculture, Rural Resettlement Minister.

The government, in collaboration with the Seed Co. has initiated feasibility studies on rice production technologies and methods in a way to enhance capacity.

The initiatives include a benchmark to Egypt, one of Africa’s largest producers of rice, estimated at 4.0 million tons milled rice in 2015/2016 by USDA.

Despite having ample rice production capacity coupled with ability to produce rice using hybrid varieties, Zimbabwe imports over 95% of its rice.

Following the then President Mugabe’s conference call at the fifth Presidential Youth Interface Rally in July 2017 on the need to ‘seriously’ consider growing rice, Life Brand company, provider of agric services secured funding for a rice production project, set to begin in 2017.

Life Brand, who said that Zimbabwe produces around just a tonne of rice annually and import over 400 metric tonnes, would use three varieties of rice sourced from China and Malawi to produce rice domestically and in the long run establish foreign markets like the Middle East.

Life Brand wants to produce over 300 tonnes of rice targeting both the local and international markets.

The Seed Co. has successfully tested their seed rice in Pakistan and they expect the hybrid varieties to grow well even in the local conditions.

To ensure that commercial rice production is a success, the Seed Co. company will offer farmers with expertise and provide seeds needed for the programme.

Seed Co has started growing rice at its research station and soon could avail seeds to many farmers.

Rice, a major food crop, is continuously gaining importance as a staple food in Africa.

While Africa has vast areas of land that are suitable for rice cultivation, they are underutilized, prompting the continent to import nearly 40% of its rice requirements at a cost of US$1.1 billion per year.