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February 01, 2011

Senegal expects record rice crop in drive to meet local demand

by Drew Hinshaw

Senegal’s rice crop will probably exceed last year’s record harvest and meet at least 60 percent of domestic consumption needs, helping the country reach self sufficiency by 2015, a government official said.

Production was 350,000 metric tons in 2010, the most the former French colony has reaped in a single calendar year, said Salif Diack, rice program officer in the state-run Society for the Development and Exploitation of Land in the Senegal River Valley. The West African nation is “expected to produce more this year,” Diack said on Jan. 27 in an interview in Dakar, the capital. He didn’t provide a specific forecast.

Senegal’s government is using funding from the U.S. Millennium Challenge Account to rehabilitate land in the Senegal River Valley along its northern border with Mauritania. The program aims to level and irrigate uncultivated rice paddies and double the 62,000 hectares (153,205 acres) of currently farmed land within four years. The country of 12.5 million people consumes between 600,000 and 700,000 tons of rice annually, Diack said.

“If we maintain this input in terms of rehabilitating land, and advising farmers, within three to four years we will get self sufficiency,” he said. “We’ve got all the conditions on our side.”

Rice is a staple food in Senegal, Africa’s fourth-biggest importer of the grain, and an increase in domestic production over the past two years has reduced imports, which fell 2.1 percent last year to 700,000 tons, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website. About half of those imports are exported to other countries in the region, according to the Agriculture Ministry.

In September, the Millennium Challenge Corp., which awards developmental aid to countries that have improved governance standards, signed a $540 million grant with the country, $170 million of which will be used to help irrigate and desalinate as much as 36,500 hectares of land in the valley, according to a document on the agency’s website.

Rice yields in Senegal, at 6 tons of rice per hectare per year, are higher than the global average of 4 tons per hectare per year, Mamour Gaye, a technical adviser in the Agriculture Ministry, said in August.

The Senegal River Valley accounts for 87 percent of the country’s rice production, Diack said.

Senegal initiated plans to boost output of the grain 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.

Rough rice for March delivery fell as much as 0.9 percent to $14.95 per 100 pounds today, extending yesterday’s 0.7 percent decline, and traded at $15.05 at 11:45 a.m. London time. The price peaked at $25.07 in April 2008.

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