women in AfricaA women rice farmers’ cooperative in Togo has tripled its output and improved the quality of rice produced by using parboiling equipment. They received this equipment from the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAPP). The corresponding increase in sales of rice has also increased household incomes, lifting women in Africa out of poverty and giving them the chance to send their children to school.

The World Bank reports that 69% of households in rural areas in Togo were living below the poverty line in 2015. Female-headed households are especially vulnerable, with 57.5% living in poverty, because women in Africa lack the same economic opportunities afforded to men. With equipment from the WAAPP, the Femmes Vaillantes cooperative in Anié, Togo, is fighting back.

Success of the Femmes Vaillantes Cooperative

The Femmes Vaillantes women’s cooperative began in 2007 with just 12 farmers. Through WAAPP training, the women farmers in the cooperative began using a rice transplanting technique that increased their output by more than four metric tons per hectare.

Parboiled rice is in high demand in West Africa, and watché, a popular meal whose main ingredient is parboiled rice, drives the market. Because of this demand, the women of the Femmes Vaillantes cooperative in Togo were well accustomed to the process of parboiling. However, they only recently acquired the equipment to maximize efficiency. Their previous method of parboiling was time consuming. According to Ebiro Kadokilah, the head of the cooperative, the old process resulted in the loss of three kilos of rice for every 100 kilos produced.

Now, the cooperative produces 800 kilos every week without any loss, tripling output. Increased profits have provided Kadokalih and the other members of her cooperative with the means to rise from poverty, for themselves in the present and even more so for their children in the future.

“I am a widow,” Kadokalih said, “and I am finally able to provide for my family. Most important, I manage to pay the education expenses of all my children.”

With the profits from added sales, the Femmes Vaillantes bought two hectares of land in Sevia, a nearby village, in the hopes of further increasing productivity. Kadokalih is even looking to build a parboiling center, which would create jobs in the area and provide greater income benefits to women in Africa and those in the cooperative.

Rice produced with the parboiling equipment is also more nutritious than what the women previously produced, providing surrounding communities that buy the rice with added health benefits.

The West Africa Agricultural Productivity Program

The WAAPP was created in 2008 with the mission of increasing food security in West Africa through gains in food productivity and availability. In 2019 alone, the WAAPP increased rice, fruit and tuber production by 150%, helping make smallholder farms profitable. The WAAPP initiative has impacted more than 227,000 Togolese women as of January 2020 through its cooperative involvements.

The agricultural sector represents about 35% of West African nations’ combined GDP and employs 60% of the active labor force. Despite its integral role in the region, the agricultural sector in West Africa struggles with some of the lowest crop yields in the world. Lagging agricultural productivity stems from low-quality seeds and fertilizer, as well as a general lack of information about and access to agricultural technologies and best practices. The market itself suffers from underdeveloped farmer-market linkages and globally high transportation costs.

Overall, Africa is ripe with untapped natural resources. The continent uses only about 10 million of some 130 million hectares suitable for rice production. The WAAPP aims to change that, and women in Africa are helping further that cause.

Reaching Out Beyond Togo

Togo is one of four countries where the WAAPP, assisted by World Bank funding, has given farmers parboiling technologies and training, increasing both labor productivity and rice quality. The other countries involved in the program are Benin, Guinea and Niger. The World Bank describes rice parboiling as a growth industry, meaning that it shows promise for future poverty alleviation and economic development efforts in West Africa. Like Togo, Benin has recently felt the effects of this promise.

After receiving training, rice parboiling and other business-related equipment from the WAAPP, cooperatives in Benin have seen similarly positive trends in productivity, with rice processing capacity up 400% in two years.

“In the past, we had to get at least four women to manually sort a 100-kilogram bag, which took all day,” Bertin Adéossi, coordinator of the Framework Program to Support Agricultural Diversification in Benin, told the World Bank. “By comparison, the sorting machine we have installed produces 1.4 metric tons per hour.”

Between 2017 and 2018, sales revenues in this cooperative rose from CFAF 33 million (about $60,000) to almost CFAF 80 million (almost $145,000). The significance of that change shows in the lives of these women in Africa, who have gained from the parboiling industry and the work the WAAPP has done.

Togo and Benin are just two examples of how these improvements in productivity, efficiency and quality in the rice parboiling industry are invaluable to long-term economic growth in West Africa. As this sector grows, so do the communities that support it. And, as the WAAPP’s project spreads, women in Africa gain more opportunities to work their way out of poverty, lifting whole nations with them in their pursuit of a better life.

– Olivia du Bois
Photo: Wikimedia Commons