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August 09, 2010

Senegal power outages may cut rice crop

by Drew Hinshaw

Energy shortages in Senegal may reduce this season’s rice crop, which had more than doubled since the 2007-08 season after the government started an initiative to boost local output, an Agricultural Ministry official said.

A higher than usual number of power outages cut electricity to motors pumping water to the crop, which could limit 2010-2011 output, technical adviser Mamour Gaye said in an interview in Dakar, the capital. Senegal produced 546,000 metric tons of rice in the 2009-10 season that ended in June, Gaye said.

“We hope it will be at least 500,000 tons, but we face an energy problem,” Gaye said. “We don’t know exactly what will be the impact, but we are afraid.”

Rice is a staple food in Senegal, Africa’s third-biggest importer of the grain, and an increase in local production over the past two years has reduced imports. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Service said on July 28 imports dropped 33 percent in the first quarter of 2010 to 124,806 tons.

Energy Minister Samuel Sarr said on July 21 outages due to “inferior quality fuel” would end by Aug. 15.

Senegal moved to boost local output after international food prices rose in 2008 by replacing old irrigation pumps, digging drainage canals, desalinating land and offering a 70 percent subsidy for fertilizer, Gaye said.

Production rose to 516,000 tons in 2008-09 from 210,000 tons in 2007-08, he said. Senegal may import as many as 800,000 tons of rice this year, the United Nations’ Food & Agricultural Organization said, down from 1.1 million tons imported in 2005.

Gaye said the government planned to double the currently farmed 62,000 hectares (153,205 acres) of arable land in the Senegal River Basin by 2015 to boost output to the 750,000 tons the country consumes annually, minimizing imports.

The basin is Senegal’s most productive rice belt, where one hectare yields an average of 6 tons per year, compared with a global average 4 tons per hectare, he said.

“We are on our way to covering our national rice needs,” Gaye said.

Bloomberg

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