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April 16, 2009

Senegal hopes for self-sufficiency in rice by 2012

The Senegalese Minister of Agriculture, Amath Sall, has announced that "by 2012, Senegal will not import a single grain of rice." Record harvests in the River Senegal valley indicate the country is on the right course.

The Dakar government has intensified its programmes to raise food production in the Sahelian country, with a special focus on rice as a staple food. Especially along the large valley of River Senegal, marking its border with Mauritania, results are now beginning to become visible.

According to the latest production rates published in Senegal, this year's rice harvest in the valley alone were of 350,000 tonnes paddy rice; equalling some 220,000 tonnes white rice. In 2008, production only reached around 100,000 tonnes.

This year's rice harvest along River Senegal thus marked a clear record. Local producers associations contribute this large harvest increase to larger infrastructure and hydrological projects in the valley. Only last year, public works at a value of euro 1 million were done to improve the hydrological environment in the Senegal Delta, enabling larger areas to be cultivated.

But not only the Senegal River valley is being improved for rice production. According to Minister Sall, Senegal expects a total paddy rice harvest of 750,000 tonnes. This amounts to a little less than the 600,000 tonnes of white rice consumed in the country last year.

The Dakar Ministry foresees further projects within the sector to further increase rice production to 1.25 million tonnes of paddy rice by 2012. Despite an expected increase in demand, 2012 should become the first year in Senegal's modern history when the country will become self-sufficient on rice, Minister Sall hopes.

Dakar Ministry sources are thrilled by the rapid results of Senegal's new food security policies, noting that the country, for the first time in 50 years, will be able to overcome its chronic food insecurity.

As a Sahelian country, whose agricultural policies have focused on cash crops such as groundnuts, Senegal has seen its food security deteriorating as population has risen rapidly since independence. Regular droughts have caused interruptions in food production, including rain-fed rice fields, while too little focus had been on irrigated rice production so far.

Due to these agriculture policies, food imports kept soaring during the last decades. In 2006, Senegal's overall rice imports totaled nearly 800,000 tonnes, the biggest exporter being Thailand.

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