Rice is a new crop for West-Africa. Twenty years ago rice was consumed only on Sunday and special occasions. Now rice is the most important cereal in the region, and the consumption is expected to double by the year 2050. This means a huge potential income for smallholder rice farmers who have the potential to produce these large quantities – even if there is a long way to go. Today 40% of rice consumption is imported – mainly from Asia. The big challenge is to supply African cities with African rice in the future in a way that is beneficial for smallholder African rice farmers. Therefore Vredeseilanden/VECO has taken the initiative to set up a regional rice program together with the regional farmer organisation of West-Africa ROPPA and its rice working group, CRCOPR. We have brought together several other NGO’s like SNV, Oxfam, Trias, SOS Faim, to join efforts . This new program was launched in February 2013 and is focusing on 4 strategic axes.
1. Setting up economic projects throughout the value chain In 10 countries we are preparing economic projects to work on different aspects of the rice chain, i.e. upgrading the quality of the processing, organising market linkages between cooperatives of smallholder rice farmers and commercial actors – for inputs, processing or distribution; improving the branding of the local rice etc. In each of these 10 countries an in-depth analysis has been conducted of promising existing economic activities and a first preliminary formulation of pilot projects is already done. All this has been discussed and improved at several meetings between the project partners. The launch of new economic projects is projected for January 2015. VECO itself will assist this work in five countries: Senegal, Mali, Niger, Benin and Burkina Faso. These very concrete and tangible activities give visibility and legitimacy to the partners in this regional rice program.
2. Improving the governance of the rice sector Many regulations and support programs are set up at the national level in ‘National Strategies for Rice sector Development’. At the regional level of West-Africa, there is a similar regional program called ‘Offensif Riz’. We participate in the meetings of this ‘Offensif Riz’ and our common program is recognized by the regional authorities ECOWAS for its contributions to the West-African rice sector. Because ROPPA , VECO and all these other partners are involved in operational activities in different countries, we have a good understanding of how public support can be improved, i.e. which type of infrastructure is needed; how can processing of rice be better accessible for smallholder farmers and deliver the necessary quality; how can public procurement be meaningful for smallholder farmers; how to develop incentives for companies to engage with smallholder farmers,…. The different economic projects (axis 1) are being aligned with the national policies and strategies in order to contribute better to the national targets of prioritising a better inclusion of smallholder farmers in the rice sector. At the same time we are developing a ‘regional dimension’ for these projects in a way that the results are also inspiring for actors in other countries of the region.
3. Learning, monitoring results and impact We are very clear on how to set up this learning, but we still have to start. Activities in one country can be very effective in orienting activities in another country. If you want farmers to be enthusiastic, don’t write articles or books or leaflets, but organise exchange visits. Company officers can see business models with smallholder farmers that work. In the month of November 2014, we are organising a first ‘write-shop’, in which rice practitioners (i.e. farmer leaders or officers of farmer organisations or NGO’s) of different countries are discussing and writing their specific ‘rice’-case during. Of course these practitioners will learn from each other. And we hope the publication will be useful for government officers, researchers, NGO-people etc. Next year we will work on a common tool for monitoring results and looking at impact.
4. Supporting farmers’ organisations Farmers usually know how to produce. To process the rice and put it in the market is a different job requiring different skills. Collective actions of farmers beyond production generally improves the inclusion of smallholder farmers in the rice chain. VECO supports farmers’ organisations in working on market analysis, developing business plans, negotiating with potential investors, improving internal functioning,…. VECO works in five countries: Senegal, Mali, Bénin, Burkina Faso and Niger. The other countries are covered by other partners. Also at the level of West-Africa, VECO is putting a lot of efforts in the support of the rice group of the regional farmer organisation ROPPA, so they are better able to coordinate the work of the different national rice platforms in West-Africa.
Gert Engelen, Vredeseilanden/VECO.