An improved rice parboiling system – called GEM – combined with targeted training and the adoption of an innovation platform approach along the rice value chain, is starting to make a difference in the lives of more than 450 women rice parboilers in the Glazoué rice hub in central Benin. The technology is women-friendly, as it shortens the processing time, reduces drudgery and does not expose the women parboilers to heat burns.
“AfricaRice’s Strategic Plan promotes cross-cutting research to benefit rural women and the development of more inclusive and gender-equitable rice value chains,” said AfricaRice Director General Dr Harold Roy-Macauley. “That is why it is important for us to keep in mind that the world community recently adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which includes gender equality, among others.”
Just two months after the GEM system was set up in Glazoué thanks to the African Development Bank-funded project ‘Support to Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops in Africa (SARD-SC), both the average monthly output (quantity of parboiled rice produced) and the average monthly income from this activity have more than doubled compared to those obtained using the traditional parboiling system.
With the traditional system, the women parboilers were processing only about 120 kg of paddy per session, while with the GEM technology they are already processing about 300 to 400 kg of paddy per session and plan to go up to 1 ton. A parboiling session is the period from cleaning to drying and this normally takes 2 days. The 1st day is used for cleaning and soaking while the 2nd day is used for steaming and drying.
Moreover, the quality of the parboiled rice is now similar to that of premium imported rice. “As the quality is so much better, traders from here and from Cotonou are readily buying up all our rice and are also giving us a better deal,” said Mrs Batcho Léontine, Chair of Glazoué Women Parboilers Association (UFER-C). “Now we can pay our children’s school fees and take care of medical and other household expenses without having to ask our husbands for money.”
The results showed that with the GEM technology, there was less than 2% burnt grains, 90% whole grains, zero chalkiness and zero impurity compared to about 24% burnt grains, 60% whole grains, more than 20% chalkiness and 5% impurities with the traditional system.
The GEM technology consumes much less fuel and water than the traditional system and is also safer and more durable. It is equipped with hoists and rails to lift and move the heavy vessels in which the paddy is steamed.
“The GEM technology, which can be easily built locally, provides an opportunity to improve the quality and competitiveness of locally produced rice,” said Dr Sali Ndindeng, AfricaRice Grain Quality and Postharvest Scientist, who has led the development of this technology. “But it is also important to keep in mind that improvements in rice quality require upgrading by actors throughout the value chain.”
The demand for good quality parboiled rice is high, because it is preferred in parts of Benin, Nigeria, Ghana and other countries of West and Central Africa. It is reported that the bulk of the rice imported into Benin is parboiled rice, which enters the Nigerian market through informal channels.
But, the traditional parboiling process using rudimentary equipment and methods often produces low quality rice with high levels of impurities, broken and burnt grains and undesirable smell. The process is also laborious, time-consuming, unsafe and inefficient as it requires lots of firewood and water.
Rice parboiling is carried out mainly by rural women in these regions and contributes significantly to their livelihoods. To reduce their drudgery and to improve the milling yield and quality of local rice, AfricaRice designed a prototype based on improved models from the Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD), Cameroon, the Food Research Institute (FRI), Ghana and the National Institute for Agricultural Research in Benin (INRAB).
The small-scale locally adapted parboiling prototype was fine-tuned in close collaboration with the McGill University, Canada, as part of a joint project with support from Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD).
Experienced members of the Women Parboilers’ Association in Glazoué were consulted at every stage of the development and testing process and were trained in best practices for the various components of parboiling. These women in their turn have trained the other members of the Association from Glazoué and also a few women parboilers from Malanville, in northern Benin, which is an important hub for irrigated rice.
“The establishment and facilitation of the innovation platform (IP) along the rice value chain in the Glazoué hub has enhanced the effectiveness and sustainability of the GEM technology by helping build trust among the various actors involved in the hub,” said Dr Sidi Sanyang, Leader of the Rice Sector Development Program and SARD-SC Project Coordinator for AfricaRice.,
The actors include the rice farmers’ association (UNIRIZ-C), the women parboilers association (URFER-C), millers, input dealers, traders, blacksmiths, microfinance agencies, extension service, the nongovernmental organization Vredeseilanden (VECO), community radio as well as national and international research organizations (INRAB and AfricaRice).
“The IP encouraged farmers and entrepreneurs to participate in the rice value chain as an additional source of income,” said Dr Sanyang. “A positive indicator is that the Glazoué Town Hall is now promoting the sale and consumption of locally parboiled rice through contractual arrangements with women parboilers.”
The SARD-SC project is focusing on training in value addition, marketing, contractual arrangements, quality packaging and labeling, and leadership. It is also helping young people to become acquainted with the agri-business aspects of parboiling. Building on this successful model, AfricaRice and its partners are planning to set up a similar parboiling system within the IP process in Malanville in northern Benin.
In addition to postharvest issues, the AfricaRice agronomy task force has identified major production constraints in the Glazoué hub through yield gap and diagnostic surveys. Subsequently, through the adoption of good agricultural practices (GAP) including suitable varieties, nutrient management, and use of herbicide, rice yield increased from 1.5 to 1.9 tons per ha.
Through the Japan-funded Emergency Rice Initiative led by AfricaRice in partnership with national partners, small-scale machinery (milling machines, power tillers, reapers, and threshers) have been donated to Benin for use by the IP in the hub.
Benin is an important partner in several other AfricaRice projects. For instance, the ‘Sawah, Market Access and Rice Technologies for Inland Valleys’ (SMART-IV) – supported by Japan – which focuses on improved land development mainly for water control is showing great success. Adoption of the Smart-valleys approach has increased average farmers’ rice yields and gross margins.
AfricaRice and INRAB are jointly addressing the major challenges faced by Benin in achieving its national rice development strategy to produce 385,000 tons of milled rice by 2018. This will help the country to meet its own rice demand and export the surplus.
“Although AfricaRice’s headquarters is returning to Côte d’Ivoire, we would like to assure the government and the people of Benin that the Center’s R4D activities will continue to support the national efforts for rice self-sufficiency,” stated Dr Roy-Macauley. “That is the main reason why we have decided to have a country office in Benin with an AfricaRice country representative in charge.”