Promotion of the rice value chain in Benin
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1Promotion of the rice value chain in BeninCooperation between Beninese farmers organisations,
the Belgian retailer Colruyt and the NGO
September 2011 - www.veco-ngo.org
2This is a story of rice and of a relation-ship built between small-scale farmers in West Africa with leaders of the European food industry through a trusted relation-ship broker.
Rice is becoming increasingly important in Benin. A luxury commodity until a few years ago, it is now becoming a daily staple food for a large part of the population. With this increasing popularity and a rapid decline in income from growing cotton, the area devoted to growing rice has more than dou-bled over the last 15 years, and total out-put has increased nearly five-fold. Rice is now Benins third most important crop, after sorghum and maize. Benin now produces over 34% of the rice it consumes, and has the capacity to grow and become a net rice exporter to neighbouring countries.
The NGO Vredeseilanden/VECO started the
rice programme in 2002 to boost the capac-ities of farmers and their organisations to produce high quality rice that can success-fully compete with imported Asian rice on the domestic market, and eventually enter the export market. The central goal is to increase farmers incomes through improved farming methods and access to modern, dynamic markets. Stimulating local produc-tion and deployment of an effective local value chain will also help cope with future food crises.
Agricultural production in Benin faces deep internal and external challenges. The coun-trys agricultural sector is characterized by a lack of mechanisation, deficient water con-trol, unavailability of agricultural inputs at the right time, a weak system for the trans-fer of technological innovation, insecure land tenure, insufficient technical support, lack of transport and storage infrastructure,
organizational deficiencies and an almost complete absence of agricultural financing. External challenges for rice farmers come in the form of massive cheap rice imports from Asia and particularly food aid from Japan. These imports translate as subsidized and decidedly unfair competition.
These challenges are tackled head-on in VECOs rice programme, which has been supporting rice farmers and their organi-sations in the Collines dpartement since 2002, through the analysis of and inter-vention in the value chain. The programme has resulted in significant outcomes, includ-ing local self-sufficiency for households in the Collines, a 50% increase in per hec-tare productivity, professionalized farmers organisations that have developed the abil-ity to export, and international Fair Trade certification, and a positive relationship forged between producers and the Belgian
Leontine Batcho, rice producer, This project has completely changed our lives as producers. We now earn more money. We have better food for the family. The children go to school.
Click here to view the short video clip presenting this project
2supermarket chain, Colruyt.
In the initial stages of the programme, a key driver was the farmers will to move away from cotton growing, which had become less profitable. Like cotton, most farmers sold their rice directly to wholesale traders within Benin and from neighbour-ing Togo, Niger and Nigeria. VECO initially supported collective sales of paddy rice to wholesale markets through the commercial hub of Malanville on the border with Niger. However, this system did not generate a price bonus compared with the local market, and hence could not lead to improvements in the value chain. This practice was stopped in 2006, and efforts were re-oriented towards quality improvement and local processing.
Through VECOs cooperation with Colruyt, the Belgian supermarket chain, more finan-cial resources were invested into field level improvements, expanding the programme into other municipalities, and exploring the export market. In 2005, 5,000 rice farmers were involved in the programme - by 2009 there were 8,500. Over the same period, average productivity increased by more than 50% to 3,3 tons of paddy/ha.
VECO complemented the field training with associated improvements in post-harvest processing of the rice. Local rice hulling facilities improved steadily, with ESOP, a local company, and other local initiatives. Local experience was acquired with parboil-ing, rice moisture control, variety manage-ment etc., all with important implications for the quality of the end product measured in the percentage of broken rice grains.
As local rice production and processing improved, the programme staff became trained in the requirements for export to the demanding Belgian retail market. In February 2007, two Beninese, Hector Kpodonou, an employee from a local NGO, and Chiaratou Oceni, a VECO employee travelled to Belgium for an internship at Colruyt to gain insight into retail product specifications and man-agement systems for quality control.
VECO played the critical role of relationship broker throughout the program, cultivat-ing the capacity on the ground to talk with buyers and build the interest within Colruyt to invest and learn about Benins growing capacity to produce high quality rice. In a 2008 visit to Benin, Colruyts rice procure-ment agent determined that the export of rice to Belgium would be possible, albeit
conditioned by compliance with stringent European food safety standards. Colruyt com-mitted to buying a symbolic quantity of 36 tonnes of rice from the Tchetti and Kpataba farmers organisations in the Savalou munic-ipality in the Collines dpartement. Within the short period of six years, these farm-ers had progressed from producers of sub-standard products to being able to avail of the opportunity of exporting to one of the worlds most demanding markets.
The rice program faced the dual challenge of helping farmers to produce rice that could meet the demanding but different require-ments of both local and international mar-kets. VECO conducted several studies to clarify the requirements of European qual-ity standards and preferences of consumers in Benin and Niger, as well as examining how each objective could best be met. These studies provided insights into the choice of the most suitable rice variety and for
necessary measures to obtain the required moisture content. Paddy rice that is either too moist or too dry will result in more breakage when hulling. Excessive moisture promotes mould in storage.
Subsequent field trials were set up with the rice farmers, establishing correct timing for planting and harvesting in order to obtain the desired moisture content, techniques for soil erosion control, and appropriate amounts of fertilizer and pesticides. Finally, production standards were established to meet all the quality criteria. These stand-ards are clearly listed and form the basis for the internal control system set up in 2009.
In addition to meeting different consumer preferences and market requirements, the farmers organisations would benefit from a mechanism to differentiate their prod-uct. A diversified market portfolio of both export and local buyers is critical for the
Amidou Diallo, VECO West Africa, The rice for Belgium meets European standards, but we think these standards open new perspectives for local markets, in particular in the cities. Previously, we only ate rice at celebrations. Now its increasingly becoming our staple food. So just like the farmers in the bas-fonds (lowlands), we think that if they take advantage of this potential, family farming can make a profit and be sustainable at the same time.
4long-term sustainability of the programme, and VECO proposed the Fair Trade certifi-cation process for additional differentia-tion. Along with a product seal that can be used for marketing purposes, the pro-cess of obtaining international Fair Trade certification can deliver important co-ben-efits of organizational strengthening, farm-ers empowerment and improved capacity in democratic decision-making.
Initially Colruyt did not request the Fair Trade label. The process of Fair Trade certi-fication can be lengthy and cumbersome and adds costs to the system. Nevertheless, the
Fair Trade label was adopted because it pro-vides clear guidance, externally controlled criteria and additional marketing leverage. The rice is sold within the assortment of their house label Collibri, meaning that 5% of the price is invested in education pro-jects. Also the Beninese rice farmers benefit from these resources.
The first stage consisted of representatives of the Tchetti and Kpataba groups partici-pating in an exchange programme with an organization of pineapple producers in Benin that had already achieved a Fair Trade label, coached by VECO. This experience generated
a long list of issues and action points. As second-tier farmers organisations, the cost of achieving the Fair Trade label is substan-tial and the procedure is more cumbersome than for a first-tier group: the Fair Trade Labelling Organization (FLO) performs a thorough audit to verify on the spot whether all conditions are met, the organisations are sufficiently independent, the environmental policy plan is in place etc.
A training programme was designed to learn about the opportunities the label represents, to learn how the label can be achieved, and to increase the entrepreneurial capacity of farmers organisations. This programme tackled a broad range of issues, including improvements to their financial manage-ment, administration, transparency, good governance, and introducing an Internal Control System. Additional co-investments were made in farmers training programmes to improve the en