Justina Musa is in a joyous mood.
The source of her joy and excitement isn’t far-fetched – the demand for domestic rice has risen to an all-time high.
The rice parboiler from Bukan-Sidi Lafia, in Nasarawa state, north-central Nigeria is happy at the prospect of waving a final goodbye to poverty in her life and family. Justina’s joy knows no bounds as her favourite crop, rice, is now the toast of the market following the introduction of technology and new policy thrust of government.
“I am happy now that I can get more money by parboiling rice,” she enthused.
“I don’t have to wait for my husband in order to provide little things for the household. Now, he asks my opinion before taking a decision for the family,” Justina added giggling.
The rice paradox in Nigeria
Nigeria is Africa’s leading consumer of rice, one of the largest producers of rice in Africa and simultaneously one of the largest rice importers in the world.
Rice is one of Nigeria’s important food security crop, an essential cash crop for its mainly small-scale producers who commonly sell 80 per cent of total production and consume only 20 per cent.
Upon assumption of office in 2015, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari pledged to help the nation become self-sufficient in rice.
By the end of 2015, Nigeria’s central bank banned the use of its foreign exchange to pay for rice imports, backing loans of at least 40 billion naira ($130 million) to help small-holders boost output.
It also banned rice imports across land borders and kept hefty 70% tariffs on imports coming through ports.
In 2017, rice paddy production for Nigeria came to 9.86 million tonnes. Recording a significant increase from 353,000 tonnes in 1968 and growing at an average annual rate of 9.76%.
Despite this increase, the Rice Millers Importers and Distributors Association of Nigeria (RIMIDAN), revealed that over two million MT of parboiled rice were smuggled into Nigeria in 2017 alone.
Smuggled rice is primarily sourced from Thailand and India and comes into Nigeria through the country’s borders with Benin Republic, Niger and Cameroon.
Worried, perhaps by losses attributable to smuggling, Nigeria went a step further in August 2019 by closing its land borders altogether. This was with a view to boosting domestic rice production and stamping out smuggling, often from neighbouring Benin Republic.
At the close of 2019, government sources claimed that the border closure had helped in pushing Nigeria close to its 12 million tonnes target in rice production.
Increasing demand for domestic rice
The border closure led to a significant increase in demand for domestic rice in Nigeria.
This was followed by an improvement in the quality of domestic parboiled milled rice based on a preferred rice variety (FARO) by the middle class and “high class restaurants.”
Nigerians began to buy the GEM parboiled milled rice in record numbers both for household consumption and at social functions.
This chain of events became the trigger the Nasarawa state government, in north-central Nigeria required to dive headlong into boosting the production of paddy rice in the state.
It recognised early that the challenge of meeting the increasing demand for domestic rice lies not only in boosting rice production by famers, but in providing requisite technology for millers and parboilers.
The state government identified for public-private partnership, the Bukan-Sidi Lafia multi-stakeholder rice Innovation Platform (IP), where Justina Bala works.
With domestic parboiled rice as entry point, the IP uses the AfricaRice developed technology – Grain quality enhancer, Energy-efficient and durable Material (GEM) rice parboiler.
IP Approach to scaling up GEM parboiled rice
The IP was established in 2015 at Bukan-Sidi Lafia, Nasarawa state as part of the African Development Bank-sponsored project, Support to Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops (SARD-SC).
Through the SARD-SC project, the bank successfully introduced GEM rice parboiling in Nigeria, Benin, and Niger.
GEM-parboiled domestic rice competes with imported rice in urban markets. Added market value of GEM-parboiled domestic rice is $0.2 over sub-optimally parboiled rice.
Consumer-preferred attributes of domestic parboiled rice over imported rice include swelling, cleanliness and taste.
Some of the positive outcomes of the GEM rice parboiling technology include – a reduction in paddy steaming time from 60 to 20 min, post-harvest loss from 6% to < 0.5%, and reduced fire consumption by 41% (where firewood is used as fuel).
Multi-stakeholder innovation platforms (IPs) are set up to facilitate collective action for the generation, adoption and scaling of agricultural innovations that improve productivity and income.
Collective action using the IP enhanced the skills of actors such as farmers, millers, seed producers and extension workers through awareness and demand creation campaigns, workshops, field days, branding and promotional activities, and experience sharing among others.
Over the last five years, AfricaRice with support from the bank, engaged policy makers of the State Ministry of Agriculture, traditional
rulers (Amir), farmer groups, traders, and women and youths, etc. to promote quality GEM domestic parboiled milled rice using the IP approach.
The IP approach is embedded in developing the innovative capacity of the IP actors in the rice value chain, engaging the downstream consumers, upstream policy influencers, and policy makers to change mind-set on the perception of domestic parboiled milled rice in urban markets.
In 2019 therefore, when the Nasarawa state government acquired a 12 M/T integrated rice processing mill, it decided to open it to competition on private lease.
Justina’s Bukan-Sidi-Lafia rice IP won the bid competition and it was leased to them at 80,000 Naira ($223) per month for 3 years. The IP itself floated shares of 500,000 naira ($1389) each and raised 5 million naira among its membership.
Within a month, the IP generated over 19.7 million naira ($53,968.31) through service provision and sale of quality domestic parboiled rice from the new rice mill, with 16 women and 7 men employees.
Scaling up rice husk-fueled GEM parboiling system
In order to take the GEM rice parboiling technology to scale, the Rice Compact of Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) in 2019, introduced rice husk-fueled GEM parboiling system which reduces or completely substitute firewood fuel by the rice husk, resulting in US$30 per tonne savings in the cost of firewood for rice parboiling.
Sponsored again by the African Development Bank (AfDB), TAAT’s main objective is to improve the business of agriculture across Africa by raising agricultural productivity, mitigating risks and promoting diversification and processing in 18 agricultural value chains within eight Priority Intervention Areas (PIA).
The programme increases agricultural productivity through the deployment of proven and high-performance agricultural technologies at scale along selected commodities which include rice.
The TAAT Rice Compact, led by AfricaRice, is currently being implemented in seven focus countries, including Nigeria.
Using the rice husk-fueled GEM rice parboiling system by the IP in Nigeria for example, over 65 million Naira (US$181,800) was generated within one year (2019) from selling 218.15 tonnes of quality domestic parboiled rice.
Quality GEM parboiled rice contributes to the improvement of the livelihoods of the rice IP members especially women rice parboilers like Justina, who are economically empowered.
Paulina Michael, a rice parboiler from Akwanga, Nasarawa state is happy with the noticeable transformation in her life and family.
“Truly, I have seen changes with this GEM rice parboiling technology. The process is much easier and less cumbersome than the old system I am used to. At the end, I have better rice that everyone wants to buy.”
“Before now, when we mill rice, we don’t even blow it, we only pack the rice into the drum and put water with the dirt inside. But now with the GEM technology, we wash our rice thoroughly, the rice will become as clean as anything, with no sand or stones. Now my market is moving as perfect as anything,” Tabitha Illiya, a retired nurse who now parboils rice at the Bukan-Sidi Lafia IP said.
“Now my life is progressing. I was able to obtain a loan of N450,000 ($1,233) to buy a grinding mill and I have already paid back the loan. I can boldly say I have a grinding mill, employing up to 5 women now,” Tabitha added with satisfaction
According to Yusuf Lawee, former Nassarawa State’s Commissioner for Agriculture and water Resources, the introduction of GEM rice parboiling technology in our state has led to a complete transformation of the Nasarawa rice sector.
“GEM parboiled rice has come a long way in our state, apart from adding value to rice production, the introduction of this technology by AfricaRice has led to an increase in livelihood opportunities for our people as many of our rice processors have been trained,” Lawee stated.
“I sincerely think that with regards to business opportunities in domestic parboiled rice, this technology has boosted the image of the Nasarawa state as the leading producer of quality parboiled rice in Nigeria,” the ex-commissioner added.
To Mr. Naphtali Jeremy Dako, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and water Resources in Nasarawa State, there is no gainsaying the fact that that the rice Innovation Platform and GEM parboiled rice have contributed greatly to increasing food security in the State.
This contribution made it possible for government to come up with a policy that will not only encourage rice producers, millers, and marketers along the value chain but also position the rice sector as a key driver of job and wealth creation in Nasarawa state and Nigeria, Mr Dako added.
On the plans for the future, Mr Joshua Jonathan, Chairman of the Lafia Bukan-Sidi innovation platform (IP) called for more support as they plan to set up more sites across the state.
He further stated that despite the very good results achieved so far, unavailability of some spare parts for the milling machines as well as the lack of some critical equipment such as paddy cleaners, colour sorters, rice grader, moisture testers, etc. remain a challenge for sustainable processing of high quality domestic parboiled rice by the rice innovation platform (IP) in Nasarawa state.