It takes a lot of water to grow rice.
Farmers in Missouri’s bootheel have plenty from underground aquifers, replenished by the Mississippi River. But in Egypt, the government has slashed rice planting in half to conserve water.
A new dam near the Nile River’s source in Ethiopia is threatening to stem the flow to Egypt’s rice paddies.
That could be an opportunity for Missouri, a leading rice-producing state. Half of the U.S. crop is exported. The current trade war and tariffs with China have led American producers to explore other markets.
When Greg Yielding from Jackson, Missouri, heard about the situation in Egypt he had an idea. The director of emerging markets for the U.S. Rice Producers organization, instantly started thinking about making a trade deal.
He proposed that Missouri export “rough” or unmilled rice to Egypt.
“It could help them economically as well as be a sustainable food supply for their people,” Yielding said.
Egyptian traders have been receptive.
“They want to plan for the future,” he said. “They want to make sure they have food and it could be a big economic driver for them.”
Yielding explained the imported American rice will help maintain jobs in Egyptian mills to process the rough rice. And they can export the by-products: bran and hulls. Many countries in Africa and the Middle East use the hard, inedible rice hulls in building materials.
“Egypt has been growing rice for 6,000 years,” rice researcher Mike Aide said. “It’s part of their diet, part of their staple, but for the first time in their history they can’t grow enough to feed the population.”
Aide is an agriculture professor at Southeast Missouri State University and accompanied Yielding on a recent trade mission to Egypt. In addition to the rice trade deal, Aide will be conducting an academic and research exchange with counterparts in Egypt.
“We’ll be working on collaborative research that will benefit both nations,” Aide said.
It was Aide’s first visit to Egypt, and he was impressed with the way farmers managed their rice paddies.
“The average farm is two to three acres and all hand tilled,” he said, while the average rice farm in Missouri is several thousand acres.
“Basically, I would need their two acres to turn my combine around.”
Aide expects to host a contingent of Egyptian farmers and researchers at Southeast Missouri State University soon, as part of a current memorandum of understanding.
This will be the first time that Missouri has exported unmilled, rough rice to Egypt. The current trade deal projects a sale of 50,000 metric tons of Missouri rice to Egypt.
The U.S. Rice Producers’ Yielding said both sides are anxious for final approval for the Missouri rice exports. He expects the deal to be official by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Aide sees the deal as win-win.
“We’re very hopeful that we can export Missouri rice to Egypt, help them improve yields, promote our farmers’ profitability, as well as feed that portion of the world.”
Egypt is seen as a gateway to Africa and the Middle East for exporters.
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