Andreoni, A., Mushi, D. and Therkildsen, O. (2021) ‘Tanzania’s “Rice Bowl”: Production Success, Scarcity Persistence and Rent Seeking in the East African Community’. Working Paper 34. London: ACE/SOAS Consortium.


Rice is a ‘political crop’. As the second most important staple crop after maize in people’s diets in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), rice attracts considerable domestic political attention.

Rice scarcity – that is, the difference between domestic supplies and national consumption requirements – has grown in most sub-Saharan African countries since the early 2000s. As a result, trade in rice has become the target of political micro-management and food security-related measures. Such policies have been vulnerable to corruption, due to allocating various forms of rent which create opportunities due to policy-induced price differences across countries.

Across SSA, Tanzania presents a puzzling exception. Rice growers, who are mainly smallholders, have quadrupled production since 2000 and have increasingly kept up with growing consumption. Since 2014, the country has become largely self-sufficient. Given this production success, scarcity-related rent-seeking should have declined. But the evidence shows the contrary. A regional perspective on rice production and trade is therefore important to understand the political economy of rent-seeking in the rice sector in East Africa. National rice markets are de facto intertwined.

Our analysis in this paper shows that rents from trade in rice have shifted from rent-seeking in the domestic market towards rent-seeking in Tanzania’s nearby export markets. This paper explores the different factors that have led to this shift, including the remarkable increase in rice production – mainly by smallholders.