In Burkina Faso women enhance rice value by local processing
On Friday 4th of July I went along with a group of young adults to a meeting of rice growers. The strength and determination of the women workers made a strong impression on us.
The leader of the rice growers’ union recognised this. It was the women who saved the rice sector, when it was up against hard times in 2004 and 2005. Today rice from Bama is back on track. It is even in high demand. As a result the women who work in processing have doubled their efforts. They have organised themselves into 8 local groups, one for each area of town. Together they form a union, The Union of Women Rice Processors of Bama, Fasobadenya (badenya = solidarity or kinship).
There was an opportunity to discuss with the President of the Union, Mariam Sawadogo. She explained the process of parboiling rice. First the paddy rice (grain still in its husk) is soaked in water for one night, then it is steamed for a good half hour and finally it is put away to dry. Once it has become dry, it goes into the husking machine. Then comes the sifting and finally the packaging in bags for the market. Today the women boilers in Bama, as well as in Burkina in general, are happy. Their rice is selling well, at 350 CFA francs per kg, whilst not long ago they could demand only 200. They are now carrying on with commitment and joy. In good spirits all day long around their boiler.
Nevertheless the quality of parboiled rice remains underestimated
The proof: the Bama women sell their rice at 350 CFA francs/kg, whereas white rice is sold on the same market at 400 francs/kg. The women explained to us that parboiled rice is softer, therefore it yields more when passing through the husking process. In Bama, where the husking machine is a good one, they recover 68% of the rice, whereas for white rice they get only 60% of the input. This might be the reason why they sell the parboiled rice at a lower price.
But this mainly goes to show two things:
1. There is little recognition for the value of the work performed by women
Two examples will illustrate this: In the villages clay pots are mostly manufactured and sold by the wives of blacksmiths. Their asking price barely covers the cost of fire wood for the pottery kiln. A second example: At harvest time a bag of millet is often sold at the same price as a bag of sorghum, in spite of the fact that women often have to work long hours to detach the millet grains from their stalks. It takes much more time than thrashing sorghum.
A study of the Action Plan for the Rice Sector (PAFR- Plan d’Action pour la Filière Riz) of June 2005 estimates that a woman working at rice processing earns a mere 10 CFA francs/kg of parboiled rice, very little indeed considering all the work required. In Bama, however, one could assume that they earn more, as their boiler has a relatively high output. Moreover, some women use boilers that have a capacity of 100 kgs of paddy rice, while requiring little fuel.
2. The women have not yet managed to get full value for the quality of their product
Perhaps this is due to a lack of awareness on their part. The quality of parboiled rice comes out when it is cooked : the grains remain solid and do not stick. Such rice also has a higher nutritional value, since proteins and vitamins radiate at the core of the grain during parboiling.
Because of its higher solidity the parboiled rice lasts better in storage. As it has already been steamed, it requires shorter cooking time, a fact that is highly appreciated by those who prepare it, since fuel costs (fire wood or more often gas) are reduced.
For all these reasons I believe the women should not accept selling at a lesser price than that of white rice. However, in order to get full value for their quality, they still have an effort to make. When the rice has come out of the husking machine and been sifted, it may still contain some undesirable parts, the “black spots” of grains that have not matured. Because such grains are small they have slipped through the grinder of the husking machine. This is not very serious in terms of quality, it is mainly the unpleasant effect it has on the housewife on the look-out for good rice. Also, the marketed rice should be conditioned in bags carrying a label which certifies the origin and quality of the product and the precise variety of the paddy rice which has been parboiled.
As parboiled rice yields more in the husking process, it would be acceptable to sell it for the same price as white rice, but not less. In this way the benefits of parboiled rice would be shared between producer and consumer. This would in turn secure more customers for the parboiled rice and provide the women workers with a fair income.
By making boilers of a 200 litre capacity the general norm , using good husking machines which remove some of the impurities from parboiled rice and providing more appropriate bags (these last items will demand some surplus work, however offset by the high performance of the new boilers), an initial estimate indicates that women workers in rural areas could achieve a profit of 70 CFA francs/kg instead of the 10 they got in 2005. There are few occupational groups that could hope for such an increase in the coming years! And all this will not necessitate large investments.
Finally one may hope that the West African Heads of State will draw the appropriate conclusions from the recent developments following the rising cost of living. “Sleeping on somebody else’s straw mat, means having to sleep on the floor”. If the Heads of State would undertake to prevent the arrival of poor quality rice wiping out our own rice trade, if they could guarantee a fair price to producers and processing workers (by introducing, if need be, an import duty on foreign rice, which would vary according to world market fluctuations) then Burkina Faso could look forward to a prosperous future for its domestic rice. And the rice fields would become avenues of development for the region.
Koudougou, July 9th 2008