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Commodity Intelligence Report
September 29, 2017

Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua Rice Production

Rice in Central America is produced mainly in Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Since production in each country is not enough to satisfy domestic demand, these countries also rely on rice imports. Panama’s domestic production accounts for approximately 40 percent of domestic demand, with Costa Rica slightly above 50 percent and Nicaragua around 70 percent. Rice is the main staple food; consumption per person is approximately 74 kilograms per year in Panama (one of the highest in the world), 45 kilograms per year in Costa Rica, and 53 kilograms per year in Nicaragua.

In Panama and Costa Rica, there are two growing cycles for rice. The first crop (main) is planted from May through July during the rainy season, and is harvested from August through November. A second crop (irrigated only) is planted from August through October during the dry season, and is harvested from November through February.

In Nicaragua, the main crop is planted from January through March and is harvested in April through July. The second rice crop is planted in July through October, and is harvested from November through December.


Rice is grown in nearly every region of Panama. The main producing regions are in the western lowlands, most notably in the provinces of Chiriquí (31 percent of the country’s total production), Veraguas (17 percent), Coclé (15 percent), and Los Santos (14 percent). In the eastern region, Darién province has nearly doubled rice production over the last few years primarily due to farmers planting rice in areas that were previously used for grazing. Though Darién rice production represents a small percentage of Panamá’s total output, its increase over the last few years confirms the country’s potential growth in rice production. Since about 85 percent of Panama’s rice crop is rainfed, farmers base their planting decisions largely on the long-term weather outlook prior to planting. Rainfall for the 2016/17 planting season was favorable, resulting in an increase in planted area following the 2014/15 and 2015/16 drought years, and weather has been favorable for the 2017/18 crop as well. In addition to favorable weather, the increase in rice plantings is attributed to continued government support, including state-provided seed, state purchases of farmers’ rice output, a guaranteed minimum price for rice, and training facilities aimed to improve farm management practices.

Costa Rica
Most of Costa Rica’s rice is produced in five regions. Chorotega – the country’s highest producing region –

accounts for about 50 percent of total production followed by Huetar Norte (18 percent), Brunca (17 percent), and Pacifico Central (12 percent). During the rainy season, rain is more abundant in the south, and 100 percent of the crop in the Brunca region is rainfed. Approximately 65 percent of the country’s rice is rainfed, overall. Irrigation is more prevalent in the north, most notably in the Chorotega region, where approximately 80 percent of the total rice crop is planted under irrigation. Rice in Pacifico Central and Huetar Norte is irrigated as well, but on a significantly smaller scale. The drought in 2014/15 and 2015/16 resulted in a decline in Costa Rica’s rice production. In 2016/17, however, rice production rebounded due to the combination of ideal weather in the main producing regions and the use of better seed varieties, both of which benefited yield.

Overall, ideal weather benefited Costa Rica rice planting for the 2017/18 main growing season, although when FAS personnel conducted field travel in May 2017 they observed problems for emerging rice in some of the rainfed areas. Rainfall had been unevenly distributed at that time with localized sporadic heavy rains and uneven timing of rainfall. This had caused soils to be compacted resulting in seeds not germinating in some early-planted rice fields in Esterillos Este, a town in the Puntarenas province. In these areas it is a common farm management practice not to replant as the benefit would not offset the cost of inputs.

In Nicaragua, rice is produced mainly in the departments of Matagalpa, Granada, Boaco, Chontales, Leon, Rivas and Rio San Juan. Approximately 70 percent is irrigated. According to reports from the Nicaraguan Association of Rice Growers (ANAR), national yields of irrigated rice are about 65.6 quintals per manzana (4.23 tons per hectare), compared to 26 quintals per manzana (3.19 tons per hectare) for rainfed rice.

In May, FAS analysts travelled to Sébaco, the main rice producing municipality in the Matagalpa department. Crops in this region are planted in the highlands, with elevations over 430 meters above sea level. In the highlands, rice is planted from May to June and harvested from October through December. Due to the location and soil type, crop yields are typically higher in this region than in other areas. Farmers in Sébaco incorporate a progressive method for rice production through the use of mechanized equipment. Cultivation of rice under irrigation is done primarily with machinery and aircraft. Farmers have also incorporated innovative techniques to reduce costs and improve efficiency. One example is laser leveling fields, a method to reduce the amount of water used in the terraces. With this method water usage for rice has been reduced from 15 thousand cubic meters to 7 thousand cubic meters per block.

Another example is the use of grain silo bags. With the increase in production, millers have incorporated this more cost efficient way to store rice; rice can be stored in silo bags up to 2 years. Other factors aimed at increasing rice production have been to promote the rotation of rice and soybeans, planting rice in the

summer and soybeans in the winter, to take advantage of the higher levels of solar radiation resulting in better grain filling and higher yield potential for rice. As a result of the improved technology, in recent years, yields in Nicaragua have been increasing. With continued technical assistance support by the government, and by promoting efficient farming practices, yield potential will continue to benefit.

The contributions from the USDA Office of Agricultural Affairs in San Jose, Costa Rica where the expertise from Arlene Villalaz (Panama), Victor Gonzalez (Costa Rica) and Jimmy Bolanos (Nicaragua) are gratefully acknowledged..

Current USDA area and production estimates for grains and other agricultural commodities are available on IPAD's Agricultural Production page or at PSD Online.

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For more information contact Justin Jenkins | | (202) 720-0419
USDA-FAS, Office of Global Analysis

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