Whether eaten with a vegetable sauce, mixed with spices or made into traditional rice cakes, rice is a popular staple throughout Nigeria. Yet far too little is produced for the rapidly growing population – Nigeria is already by far the most populous country in Africa. The rice farmers' yields are low, and the quality of the harvests cannot match that of rice imported from Asia. The country depends on imports and hence on the world market prices for rice.
The Competitive African Rice Initiative (CARI), a project to support the African rice value chain, aims to reduce this dependency and at the same time help low-income rice farmers. The programme supports both smallholder farming and partnerships between CARI farmers and the private sector.
To achieve these goals, the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walmart Foundation have teamed up with public and non-governmental local organisations and private companies. The German Development agency GIZ, which is implementing the initiative in the partner countries, can draw on many years of experience. Between 2010 and 2015, more than four million farmers across the globe were able to increase their income with support from GIZ, and the organisation has helped more than 11 million people overcome hunger and malnutrition.
Partnerships and new farming methods
In addition to Nigeria, the initiative is also being implemented in Burkina Faso, Ghana and Tanzania. In Nigeria, it is already working with around 76,000 farmers and rice processors; this figure is to reach around 150,000 in all four countries by mid-2018. In order to increase yields and enhance quality, the initiative trains smallholders in appropriate farming methods, such as the use of nursery beds. As they process their harvest themselves, they learn about relevant techniques, for example parboiling. The smallholder farmers deliver untreated paddy rice to commercial rice mills, which sell the processed, packaged rice to primarily urban consumers. The smallholder farmers are fixed suppliers for the mills and receive support with inputs. Several companies cooperate with CARI. For example, Labana Rice Mills, one of the largest rice mills in north-west Nigeria, is collaborating with the Kebbi Agricultural Development Authority, training 10,000 smallholder farmers to produce higher-quality rice. The mill guarantees purchase of the harvests, enabling the smallholder farmers to earn a higher, reliable income.
Increasing yields and higher income
Since the initiative was launched in 2013, harvests have increased from around two tonnes of rice per hectare to an average of more than four tonnes – and the aim is to raise this figure to six tonnes in future. There are obviously considerable differences between the regions, but applying experience gained over many years to traditional farming areas has proven effective. Thus some farmers have already achieved seven tonnes per hectare. The higher yields are also reflected in higher earnings: the income earned by Nigerian CARI farmers increased on average almost threefold between 2013 and 2016.
Nigeria's population is also benefiting from these developments, with the bigger rice harvests contributing to long-term poverty reduction and food security. They reduce the population's dependency on the world market and help make rice an affordable staple.