The Jere Bowl is an irrigated land mass formed by the flow of the Ngadda River in Jere local government area (LGA), Borno State, in Nigeria. Susceptibility to flooding, resulting in a perennially moist soil even during dry season, makes the area favourable to rice cultivation. In communities like Zabarmari and Gongulong located in the Jere Bowl, farmers plant rice on very large scales twice a year – during both rainy and dry seasons. While rice cultivation thrives, villagers, especially women, earned a living along the rice production value chain, working as parboilers, millers and marketers. However, the competitive advantage of rural actors in the value chain is attenuated by challenges, such as the absence of mechanization, poor knowledge of modern rice processing and packaging methods, and limited access to markets. The situation was further worsened by a decade-long regional armed conflict, which has dislodged farmers from their communities and worsened food security conditions. “Even before the crisis, most people who come to buy rice paddy did not let us parboil for them. The crisis has made business harder and patronage poor”, said 50-year-old Falmata Mustapha, a rice processor from Gongulong.
Old but not gold
“Wufatu is the only method of processing rice that we know”, she said. An age-long local technique of processing rice paddy before milling, wufatu is a common practice among rural rice processors in Jere. Rice paddy is boiled for 24 hours, sun-dried for three days and milled to remove the bran layer and husk. Wufatu is a cumbersome and resource-consuming process. Falmata shared that she uses at least 200 litres of water and about NGN 1 000 (USD 3) worth of firewood to process 50 kg of rice, making the process environmentally unsustainable and expensive. Wufatu also subjects women to health hazards as they constantly monitor the boiling paddy, exposing them to firewood smoke. “If I process a lot of rice, I usually have to treat cough”, she explains, stating she does not know if she has health issues as a result of over-exposure to smoke and the absence of functional health centres where she can be examined.
Rice processed in this way is considered substandard in markets, particularly outside Jere, where consumers have other options. The rice paddy is not washed before boiling and residue from pesticides and stones can remain. Boiling the paddy for 24 hours also makes the end product less nutritious, tasteless and with an unpleasant smell. Efficient agriculture value chains system – enabling rural dwellers to be actors beyond farms – is a catalyst for resilience building in rural areas
A sustainable rice parboiling method
“The new method is very different. I am amazed because it makes rice parboiling easy”, Falmata said. In the method shared by FAO during a training for 80 women and 20 men from Gongulong and Zabarmari in May 2019, rice paddy is washed three times after harvest, soaked in lukewarm water for 18 hours under room temperature and steamed for 30 minutes. The technique, which is locally adaptable in rural areas, requires less resources, time and it is prepared using locally available iron pots with false bottoms. It also keeps the rice naturally tasty and preserves the nutrients. To process 50 kg of rice, the new method helps beneficiaries save up to 72 hours of manpower, about 90 percent savings in cost of firewood and 95 percent in water usage (10 litres). This makes the method more environmentally sustainable than the local method.
“I will attract customers with low prices now that cost of production is lower.” Falmata is convinced that the new method will increase her profit margin. She and other members of her cooperative group plan to ‘dominate’ the market with the new rice they produce by initially selling at a lower price point. FAO also provided the beneficiaries with the required kits to practice the new method.
Strengthening the value chain
Usually, Falmata and her colleagues could only mill their rice in Zabarmari, where milling is done using old machines with limited capacity. Rice produced by these machines, reports say, is not entirely whole, often broken and still containing stones and other particles. To further strengthen rice production value chain in the area, FAO provided a 300 kg per hour capacity rice miller and a power generator to each of Gongulong and Zabarmari communities. The machines are modern – they mill, destone and polish the rice. Another two groups of five youths were selected in an own-operate approach to run the milling machines in each community. They will provide the services at a cost to rice parboilers like Falmata. FAO’s support to value chains in Borno will be extended to other LGAs, considering historically valued crops in each LGA. To promote community ownership and asset protection, all beneficiaries were selected in collaboration with community leaders.
“Efficient agriculture value chains system enabling rural dwellers to be actors beyond farms is a catalyst for resilience building in rural areas”, said Suffyan Koroma, FAO Representative in Nigeria. In Borno, the capacity of conflict-affected populations to restart their livelihoods and withstand future shocks is enhanced if they are empowered to play profitable roles in agriculture value chains. As the efforts of the Government of Nigeria to restore calm across the region goes on, FAO’s objective is to support vulnerable smallholders for self-reliance. FAO is implementing this assistance as part of a European Union Trust Fund (EUTF) support targeting smallholders and agro-preneurs in Borno with capacity development programmes, start-up kits and access to finance opportunities.