Write-up taken from the IRRI's Rice Almanac (2013):
Colombia lies in the northwest of South America. Its national territory covers 1,138,910 km², of which the land mass is 1,038,700 km². Colombia has coasts on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans with a coastline of 3,208 km (Caribbean Sea 1,760 km and North Pacific Ocean 1,448 km). Two-thirds of the country is composed of inter-Andean valleys and plateaus, the remainder being highly mountainous, including the Andes and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
Five geographic regions can be distinguished: the Andean region in the central part of the country, including three Andean mountain ranges and their inter-Andean valleys, with five temperature zones from hot lowlands to subzero glacial lands more than 4,000 m above sea level; the Caribbean lowlands coastal region, also known as Atlantic region, in the north of the country, with tropical savanna climate and one or two dry periods each year; the Pacific lowlands coastal region located to the west of the Andes, with a tropical monsoon climate; the eastern region that extends to the east of the Andes, characterized by its great plains; and the Amazon region in the south of the country, which includes the Amazon forest, generally warm and highly humid with high rainfall.
Colombia’s population in 2010 was 46.3 million, with 75% living in urban areas. The total population has increased at an annual rate of 1.16%, while the rural population decreased from 8.86 million in 1990 to 6.97 million in 2010.
The Colombian economy is expanding due to government policies, aggressive promotion of free trade agreements, and direct foreign capital investment, especially in the oil sector. This expansion produced a significant decrease in poverty and unemployment in the last decade: poverty decreased from 49.4% of the population in 2002 to 37.2% in 2009, while unemployment declined from 14.5% in 2002 to 9.8% in 2011. The agricultural sector grew by 9.6% and played an important role in lowering unemployment: rural unemployment dropped to 5.5% during the period. However, economic development has slowed down because of inadequate infrastructure, and was further weakened in 2010 and 2011 by major floods and by inequality and high unemployment.
Recent developments in the rice sector
Colombia occupies 25th place among rice-producing countries, and is third in Latin America after Brazil and Peru. Rice is the fourth most important crop after sugarcane, oil palm fruits, and plantains and is the fourth most consumed food after plantains, sugar, and potatoes. Rice is third in crop area after coffee and maize, with 13% of the total sown area and 30% of the temporary crop area. Rice production represents 10% of the value of agricultural activity and is a basic food for the poorest people in the country.
Rice is cultivated in five zones: central, eastern, low Cauca, north coast, and the Santanderes. The two main rice environments are irrigated and rainfed (mostly lowland), using both mechanized and manual/traditional methods; about 70% of the rice area is mechanized.
Rice farming is concentrated in the central zone, with average annual production of 780,333 t during the last 20 years. Tolima, Huila, Meta, and Casanare departments are responsible for 72% of national rice production; the two Santanderes have the lowest production.
National rice production increased from 2.12 million t in 1990 to 2.41 million t in 2010. Growth was constant between 1990 and 1999 and has become variable since then. During 2004-10, irrigated rice production fell from 1.59 million t to 1.32 million t; rainfed rice fell less, from 877,341 to 752,515 t.
The decline in rice production is partly related to a decrease in the total rice harvested area of almost 56,300 ha since 1990 (from 521,100 ha in 1990 to 464,794 ha in 2010), nearly all in the irrigated area. Rainfed rice area increased from 157,779 ha in 2000 to 173,058 ha in 2010.
The yield of rice, however, grew from 4.1 to 6.3 t/ha during 1990-2008, although it fell to 5.2 t/ha in 2010. The rise is partly the result of new improved rice varieties such as Fedearroz 50 obtained from the cross of CIAT rice varieties. The yield increase was more pronounced in irrigated areas, from 4.9 t/ha in 1990 to 6.0 t/ha in 2008. In rainfed areas, the values were 3.5 and 4.3 t/ha in 1990 and 2008, respectively. The relationship between yield and production region is also important: the highest yields are in the central zone (5.8 t/ha on average) while the lowest are in low Cauca (3.5 t/ha).
Colombia is actually more a rice importer than an exporter. This is because the national industry buys all the rice produced. It can store 473,080 t of paddy rice and its milling capacity is 180% of the national requirements. Rice imports have varied considerably since 1990, with the highest in 1998 (292,744 t) and the lowest in 1990 (90 t). The maximum imported quantity corresponds to 23% of the rice produced in the country.
The rice industry in Colombia occupies an important place in the economy. In 2009, the earnings of the rice industry were US$2.5 billion, or 1.87% of GDP. In producing municipalities, rice accounts for 60% of GDP, 48% of employment, and 80% of people’s income.
Colombia is seventh in rice consumption in South America (after Guyana, Suriname, Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil) at 35.2 kg/capita/year in 2009. Calorie and protein intakes from rice did not change significantly between 1995 and 2009 at around 11.1% to 13.2% and 9% to 10.3%, respectively.
The rice sector in Colombia is highly organized. It is included in one of the agro-chains of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The chain is composed of the National Federation of Rice (FEDEARROZ), which represents rice producers; ANDI-Induarroz that represents the rice industry; the national Association of Rice Millers (MOLIARROZ); Colombian Association of Seed Producers (ACOSEMILLAS); and Fenalco for rice traders and other regional associations.
The Colombian government shows great interest in developing the rice sector because of its importance in agriculture and the national economy through co-financing rice processing plants, encouraging the establishment of new irrigation districts through easy access to credit, and implementing government policies against rice smuggling.
Production costs. High production costs are caused by the high cost of inputs, water, and fuel, but especially by the unavailability of new agricultural areas equipped with irrigation; in the last 30 years, no new irrigation district has been built. As a consequence, agricultural land with irrigation has become a speculative good. Additionally, land cost has increased as watersheds deteriorate, the number of tenants is increasing (58% of rice producers are tenants), and the number of short-cycle crops to rotate with rice is falling because imported products have become cheaper.
Prices. One of the biggest problems of the rice sector is the change in price between seasons. In the first production season (March-August) and beginning of the second, the price drops as a result of overproduction during the first season. Then, after a season with very favorable prices, new investors appear, causing an artificial demand for quality land with good infrastructure, thus increasing production costs and supply while causing the price to drop again. A related problem is oligopsony: more than 60% of the rice produced is bought by five industries and, after processing, only a few trading companies buy and sell it.
International treaties. International treaties, especially those between Colombia and other South American countries, have harmed the rice industry by allowing the import of cheaper products during the rice harvesting time or when a rice surplus exists. In addition, in neighboring countries such as Ecuador and Peru, investment costs in developing irrigation districts and in infrastructure and fuel are lower than in Colombia, making the prices of imported rice products cheaper.
Climate change. Extremes of minimum and maximum temperature and unusual rainfall patterns have decreased rice yields by 50%, especially in the low Cauca, central, north coast, and eastern zones. For instance, since 2009, in Tolima, average temperatures have risen 3 degrees, affecting pollen sterility and spikelet fertility and increasing the incidence of some rice diseases.
Diseases and pests. Blast, rice hoja blanca virus, Togasodes oryzicolus, crinkling virus, Rhynchosporium, and Helminthosporium are the main rice threats. Increasing temperature and humidity in the Usocello irrigation district have favored certain fungi and decreased rice production from 140 bags/ha to 80–100 bags/ha. In Norte de Santander, the use of foreign rice varieties has increased the incidence of rice hoja blanca virus, reducing production by 10–25% and threatening rice production in border areas and plant sanitary security.
Other constraints. Other constraints to rice production in Colombia are smuggling, competition from weeds and red rice, infertility, aluminum-toxic soils in the eastern plains, and the increasing numbers of tenant farmers.
Technology adoption. A program for massive adoption of technology (AMTEC) to be implemented initially in Tolima includes identifying the time of year with maximum sunlight to sow rice to improve yield. In addition, the technology will help in identifying the production constraints in each rice production zone. AMTEC will also allow producers to adopt several technologies—better terrain leveling, the use of ridges to retain moisture longer, the use of precision-sowing machines, the use of good agricultural practices, and access to new rice varieties—at the same time in order to be more competitive.
Infrastructure. The Colombian government will present to the Congress a proposal called “Irrigation and drainage policy” in order to rehabilitate and upgrade irrigation districts built more than 50 years ago. The aim is also to give incentives to private industry to invest in and modernize the rice sector.
Generic inputs. The new regulation that allows the use of generic inputs in rice crops has lowered production costs, as prices are lower than for branded inputs.
Genetic background. FEDEARROZ is establishing its own germplasm bank with germplasm from CIAT and FLAR in order to broaden the genetic base. Twelve varieties from this bank have been released and some of them are resistant to higher temperatures and/or tolerant of important bacteria.
Research. Research in the rice sector is still a priority and new alliances between FEDEARROZ and BASF with the Clearfield (high-yielding varieties combined with broad-spectrum herbicides) system, with RiceTec for hybrid rice, and with CIAT and FLAR have been signed.
Rice quality. The rice industry in Colombia is technologically advanced as indicated by grain yield after milling, which is similar to the United States standard.
Climate change. A multidisciplinary group from FEDEARROZ has been working on the causes of low rice productivity in Tolima in recent years, designing a program for research and technology transfer, and identifying indicators to be used to identify agronomic problems that hinder rice production.
International treaties. FEDEARROZ is implementing different strategies to strengthen the rice sector for free trade areas, for instance, the building of drying silos in some areas. Additionally, a software called SACFA (Administrative System for Rice Farms) will be released in order to improve rice farm management. Finally, the use of AMTEC and the implementation of precision agriculture will allow Colombian rice to compete with imported rice and guarantee food security for the poorest in Colombia.
Sources: FAO’s FAOSTAT database online and AQUASTAT database online, as of September 2012