While agroecological practices demand a greater physical investment, my advice is to encourage producers to embrace this approach, as it ensures our health through our food choices, given that what we eat profoundly influences our well-being
Joseph Koutchika | Coordinator | Consultation Council of Rice Farmers in Benin (CCR-B)
Benin, like other countries of the south, is confronted with a paradoxical situation. More than a quarter of the population has a diet that does not allow a healthy and active life, even though the majority of the population lives in rural areas and has the opportunity to grow and process quality food. In cities, diseases related to malnutrition are becoming an increasing problem. There has been a steady increase in overweight, from 10% in 2001 to 23.2% in 2015, with a female prevalence of 27.2% nationally, and a rebound in morbid obesity (BMI ≥30) to 26.2% (STEP, 2015) especially in urban areas. The prevalence of diabetes/hyperglycaemia has increased sixfold in 15 years, going from 2.9% in 2001 to 12.4% in 2015.
We observe a rise in chronic diseases, ... and their correlation with certain aspects of our diet is becoming increasingly clear. When Beninese people become aware of all this, they aspire to choose products that are, as much as possible, free from pesticide residues. They want the best and they want to be healthy, but they can’t afford it,
says Ms Angèle Kouhounde Badou, President of the National Association of Local Rice Traders in Benin
Rice is one of the staple foods in Benin. It is the second most consumed cereal after maize. According to the National Rice Development Strategy NRDS II (2019–2025), the average production of white rice is 243,559 tonnes, while the estimated national rice demand in 2018 was 511,302 tonnes, resulting in a deficit of 267,743 tonnes. To compensate for this shortfall, Benin imports an average of 228,330 tonnes of rice per year, with some of this rice re-exported to Nigeria. Thus, in 2021, rice became Benin’s top import product: $690 billion was invested in the importation of this commodity, making the country the ninth largest rice importer in the world.
To ensure food sovereignty, the Government of Benin has set the primary goal for the actors in the rice sector to increase national paddy production from 374,706 tonnes in 2018 to 1,000,000 tonnes by 2025. The initiatives taken by the Beninese authorities aim to contribute to improving food and nutritional security and the economic and social development of the country.
To achieve this, the actors in the rice sector have adopted the following vision: “by 2025, local rice production widely covers the consumption needs of the Beninese population and is competitive in the national and regional markets”. Technical and financial partners are supporting the realisation of this vision, which contributes directly to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals 1 (no poverty) and 2 (zero hunger), and indirectly to Goals 12 (responsible consumption and production), 13 (climate action) and 15 (life on land).
The Belgian development agency Enabel has chosen to focus its support of the rice sector on consolidating more sustainable and climate-resilient food systems as part of its programme “Development of Entrepreneurship in Agricultural Sectors” (DEFIA). Rikolto, in consortium with CCR-B, participates in the DEFIA programme through the implementation of the project titled “strengthening the resilience of actors in the rice sector to climate change and sustainable supply of cities with healthy rice”, which is subsidised by Enabel. Specifically, Rikolto supports actors in the rice sector in a process of agroecological transition, promoting more sustainable and climate-resilient food systems in the DEFIA intervention area, which covers Agricultural Development Poles (PDAs) 5, 6 and 7.
In 20 months of implementation, 2,145 producers (including 715 women) – initially 1,462 rice farmers (including 418 women) – organised in cooperatives and arranged in six clusters of rice producers and processors have been introduced to the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) standard, trained and supported in capacity building within the Farmers’ Field Schools (CEP), with the involvement of the National Institute for Agricultural Research of Benin (INRAB) and the departments and agencies of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MAEP).
The practices promoted through the operationalisation of the SRP standard contribute to improving rice productivity. Today, chemical fertilisers are extremely expensive. Thus, when you explain to a farmer that crop residues can and should be reintegrated to the soil, they embrace the idea with enthusiasm, because they realise that these residues contain elements that are beneficial to the plants,
explains Dr Koukè Y. Rosanoff, research assistant in the rice research programme at INRAB.
In addition to supporting production, Rikolto and its partners have undertaken actions to consolidate the place of sustainable rice from Benin in local markets – an initiative that is fully in line with Rikolto’s commitment to providing people with access to high quality, healthy and sustainable products.
“We express our gratitude to Rikolto for the capacity building provided in sustainable rice value chain development, which has benefitted all our members. Today, farmers are more aware of the possibilities and opportunities of sustainable rice production.” Bertin Foton, representing Zogbodomey Rice Farming Company (SORIZ).
We have done interesting work on the development of standard contracts governing the commercial relationship between producers and processors. Processors need a guaranteed supply of quality raw materials, and producers need cash before starting a production campaign. In this dynamic, conflict can occur if the business relationships are not regulated. In order to avoid this, standard contracts have been developed with the support of DEFIA.
The actions carried out by Rikolto in partnership with CCR-B since 2021 have enabled rice sector actors in Benin not only to have a better understanding of good rice farming practices but also to increase the availability and accessibility of “Benin” rice to the local population.
“We have done interesting work on the development of standard contracts governing the commercial relationship between producers and processors. Processors need a guaranteed supply of quality raw materials, and producers need cash before starting a production campaign. In this dynamic, conflict can occur if the business relationships are not regulated. In order to avoid this, standard contracts have been developed with the support of DEFIA,” explains Joseph Koutchica, coordinator of the CCRB.
Rikolto organised workshops on the development and implementation of standard contracts to ensure the security of business relationships between the different actors in the sustainable rice value chains that are being supported.
Rikolto has also supported the six producer and processor associations that make up the clusters (ESOP Lalo, ESOP Adja Ouèrè, ESOP Vallée, SORIZ, MATEKPO and CCTR Bonou) in developing and implementing strategies to promote Beninese agroecological rice.
Campaigns to promote and market Benin rice have been carried out. In 2022, the project facilitated the participation of clusters and other actors of the Benin rice sector in several trade fairs, exhibitions and sales events during the commemoration of International Women’s Day, at the Independence of Local Products Trade Fair in Benin and during the end of year festivities. In 2023, an Open Day on Agroecology and Sustainable Rice Production in Benin was held for all stakeholders. This major event provided information and raised awareness among consumers, as well as institutional actors and authorities, in relation to the challenges of agroecology and the improvement of the local market for rice produced according to agroecological practices and environmental sustainability standards in Benin.
As a specialist in facilitating inclusive dialogue between food system actors, Rikolto supports CCRB and the Interprofessional Rice Association of Benin (IFRIZ), as well as other food system actors, in their advocacy efforts to integrate agroecological transition into strategies to promote national quality products and improve nutritional quality.
“The CCRB supports the advocacy process for facilitating market access for our rice. Today there is an interprofessional organisation – IFRIZ – that was created to carry out advocacy on issues that transcend professional boundaries. Because when we talk about marketing the finished product, we are talking about producers, processors and local rice traders as well: it’s an issue that involves multiple professions. This type of action is therefore carried out by the interprofessional organisation, with the support of all its members,” confirms Joseph Koutchica, coordinator of the CCRB.
Civil society actors, including the Consumer Defence League of Benin, are already convinced and do not hesitate to demonstrate their commitment to quality, healthy, local and sustainable food through action.
We have been advocating for the Beninese state to find ways to support actors in the sector so that this rice is better produced in the fields, avoiding the excessive and indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides, and that after harvesting there are processes in place to eliminate the waste that causes this rice to be rejected by Beninese consumers,
explains Romain Abilé Houehou, President of the Consumer Defence League of Benin.
Stakeholders unanimously agree that this project is a step towards ensuring that locally produced rice that meets sustainability standards can fully occupy the market it deserves in order to preserve the health of the Beninese population.
It is essential to recognise that when we talk about the need for people to consume quality products, we are actually addressing a crucial public health issue. Guaranteeing this comes at a price. And it is not the farmer alone who should bear this responsibility. Farmers are already paying this price in the form of their commitment, and they should be given support so that this can continue and the population can access quality meals and food.