Supporting Tanzania and Uganda to have strong, competitive, sustainable rice markets

Supporting Tanzania and Uganda to have strong, competitive, sustainable rice markets

Significant opportunities remain for rice farmers and future investments must enable smallholders and processors to invest in their businesses and acquire new skills.
This project is part of the following focus area:

Rice farmers worldwide are the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Droughts, floods, high temperatures and salinization of water due to the rising sea levels, seriously affect harvests. The crop requires around 40% of the world’s irrigation water and rice farming contributes significantly to climate change. This is because rice farming generates large amounts of greenhouse gases with 10% of global methane emissions come from rice paddies. The challenge is to meet global demand for rice while still protecting our planet.

In East Africa rice is an important food security crop with average per capita consumption at 25.8kg for Tanzania, 14kg for Kenya, and 8kg for Uganda. Consumption in the three countries exceeds local production with Kenya and Uganda being significant importers of rice; and demand for rice is growing. Tanzania and Uganda Governments have recognized the opportunity for their rice sectors and protect their developing farmers, processors and traders by imposing a 75% tariff on rice imports while Kenya has imposed a 35% tariff. They are also investing in new irrigation schemes, mechanization of existing schemes and promoting new varieties.

Rice production in Uganda and Tanzania is dominated by smallholder farmers although often operating within large irrigation schemes that were developed by Government with significant donor funds. Key donors like the World Bank and JICA continue to prioritise support to rice sector development.


Despite the significant development of the rice sector in Tanzania and Uganda there are still significant challenges, especially the high costs of production/trade and variable quality which limit the competitiveness of the sector in world markets.

  • At the farm level, a key challenge is that markets do not incentive farmers to invest in upgrading their production and post-harvest techniques. There is also a lack of knowledge on how to improve quality and produce sustainability. When farmers want to invest they also face challenges in accessing improved rice seed and genuine fertilizers and pesticides. There are differences between Uganda and Tanzania, a key one being the use of fertilizer which is over-used in Tanzania and under-used in Uganda. This means that the cost per metric tonne of production is expensive compared to other countries, especially those in Asia.

  • At the processing level, milling, storage/warehousing and mechanization services are poor in Uganda but above average in Tanzania. However Tanzania mills are rarely running at full capacity and therefore the business profitability is often low. A significant reason for this is the lack of business analysis and planning in the sector, which means that Government and donor support can lead to too many mills in one area, the wrong type of mills and Cooperatives who do not have the capacity to run a processing business.

These challenges were examined in more detail by a Rikolto study in 2016, which confirmed that profit margins in the rice value chain are small and investments are essential to reduce costs and achieve economies of scale at both production and processing levels.

Strategies and actions

Rikolto has been working in the rice sector since 2014. Have a look at what we achieved so far...

From 2019 onwards, we will work on:

  • Assessing and improving the local government regulatory environment, especially with regard to trading practices and taxation within the chain

  • Enabling the East African Grain Council to improve their market information system via SMS through testing with Farmer Organisations and developing affordable subscription services

  • Designing a commercial seed distribution system with local entrepreneurs

  • Working with KATRIN and EAGC on promoting the Quality Management System approach to enable farmers to produce, process and trade in higher quality markets. This will be combined with brand development where there is potential e.g. Magugu rice

  • Piloting a soil testing system which will help farmers decide the type and quantity of fertiliser to use. Rikolto will assess the level of demand for soil test services and potential for entrepreneurs to run such a service

  • Piloting the Sustainable Rice Platform approach in two rice schemes

  • Supporting Environmental Action Plans which address critical ecological issues identified in the baseline survey

Rikolto East Africa is also part of Rikolto’s Global Rice Cluster which works in 9 countries in Africa and Asia. The work that we do therefore feeds into evidence building which is targeted at the Sustainable Rice Platform.


Rikolto currently works with over 3,000 rice farmers in Uganda and Tanzania to support inclusive business development. Within one of the rice schemes we also are piloting the Sustainable Rice Platform tool with 50 farmers.

Rikolto has been working in the rice sector in Uganda and Tanzania since 2014. We have pioneered the testing of new approaches such as Sustainable Rice Intensification which led to an increase in productivity per acre from 18 to 26 bags. Farmers also reported savings such as the reduction is seed use from 20kgs per 0.3ha to 6kg. Although labour costs were higher in absolute terms, these costs were more than offset by the increase in yields and other cost savings. Expansion of SRI remains challenging as Government policies have not prioritised this approach, however this is expected to change as water stress becomes more acute.

Rikolto also supported policy work, such as that led by the Uganda Rice Millers Council which urged government to ensure the import duty was set at a level which would enable the rice sector to develop. We also funded a study supported by the Rice Millers Council to evaluate and recommend investments for future development of the rice sector, with a focus on mechanisation.

In 2018 Rikolto launched its work on the Sustainable Rice Platform standard with pilots in Uganda and Tanzania. This is being combined with work with KATRIN, the Regional Centre of Excellence for Rice, to develop a Quality Management System that enables farmers and processors to reach the standards that attract better prices in the market. In total, Rikolto is piloting SRP with 14 Farmer Organisations in 7 counties.

John Ereng
John Ereng
Agribusiness Advisor

Djalou Franco
Djalou Franco
Senior Agribusiness Advisor