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 (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 GIZ, which is implementing the initiative in the partner countries, can draw on many years of experience: between 2015 and 2017, almost 17 million people in rural areas across the globe increased their income as a result of GIZ’s contribution and the organisation has helped almost 16 million people to 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 has already worked with around 184,000 farmers and rice processors. 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 process and sell packaged rice to primarily urban consumers.
The smallholder farmers are fixed suppliers for the mills and partially 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 15,000 smallholder farmers to produce higher-quality rice. The mill guarantees purchase of the harvests, enabling the smallholder farmers to earn a higher, reliable income. In the next step, a specific focus will be on supporting sustainable relationships between smallholder farmers and the rice mills purchasing the rice.
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 five 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 sevenfold 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.