Sustainable rice

Nyange Nyange: a local label that facilitates market access for Congolese rice farmers

July 15, 2023
Arsène Nyangezi
Agronomist based in Sebele

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and South Kivu in particular, has a considerable production potential for rice, both rainfed and irrigated. Rainfed rice cultivation in eastern DRC dates back more than a century, while irrigated rice cultivation is much more recent and has been introduced by the Taiwanese cooperation in South Kivu province.  

Rice has become one of the most consumed staple foods in the DRC, while it is also a crucial ingredient for brewing companies. Unfortunately, depending for nearly 80% on rice imports, consumers in the city of Bukavu (the main consumption area in South Kivu province) are vulnerable to possible shocks on the world market, even though the DRC in general, and South Kivu in particular, has immense potential for rice production.

In order to reduce this vulnerability and to develop the underexploited rice potential, Rikolto supports rice farmer cooperatives in the east of the DRC through the dissemination of innovative and sustainable technologies (such as the System of Rice Intensification, Sustainable Rice Platform Standard, Integrated Soil Fertility Management, …) for increased yields while facilitating access to the market. In average, farmers increased their productivity by 80%, from 2.5 tons to 4.5 tons/ha/season. To access the market, Rikolto supported the establishment of a local rice label called Nyange Nyange.  

From quality improvement to consumer awareness

To meet consumer demand in the city of Bukavu (the city has about 1.6 million inhabitants), imported rice is flooding the market and remains the preferred choice for domestic consumption. This preference for imported rice is justified by the poor and unpredictable quality of local rice, caused by impurities, bad milling, lack of traceability with packaging that does not provide information on origin and nutritional value, as well as its scarcity and irregularity on the market.

Improving the competitiveness of rice grown by smallholder cooperatives in South Kivu requires implementing a quality improvement strategy first, followed by a consumer communication strategy. This led to the idea of creating an independent label for local quality rice that would ascertain its competitiveness with imported products.  

Rikolto, active in South Kivu’s rice sector for several years already, facilitated and supported a process for the co-creation of a label to ensure the quality of local rice within the framework of the Integrated Project for Agricultural Growth in the Great Lakes (PICAGL). This was achieved through a series of workshops bringing together different stakeholders in the rice value chain, including producers, processors, transporters, wholesalers and retailers as well as consumers. These workshops resulted in the creation of a non-profit organisation called "Nyange Nyange" and a label with the same name. That name comes from a white egret (Ardea alba), known locally as Nyange Nyange, which is usually found in rice fields. It never causes damage to crops, unlike other birds, its presence is a sign of peace and tranquillity in the environment and its immaculate white colour symbolises purity.

The main objective of the organisation is to ascertain the intrinsic quality of local rice through a permanent quality control service that aims at changing the image of the product and stimulating province-wide sales. The organisation’s quality assurance technicians control all production, processing, conditioning, transport, storage and marketing activities of all actors involved, and grant the Nyange Nyange label for each inspected batch of rice that matches the standards, before it is put on sale. High quality packaging carrying the label is used to assure consumers of quality.  

The label covers a set of technical criteria (e.g., the availability of a well-functioning rice mill), the characteristics of the rice (varieties grown, homogeneity, cleanliness, whiteness, freshness, moisture content, max. 20% broken rice, prevalence of impurities) as well as those related to storage conditions (layout of the space, ventilation, state of the roofs and walls). Compliance with the standards is rewarded with a certificate, leading to the signing of a contract between the cooperative and Nyange Nyange. To date, 4 cooperatives have been certified: ADPA and GCOOATU in Luvungi and COOPABA and COOPRITU in Sange.

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A local market is being built

  • Creation of a market for local high-quality table rice: the smallholder rice growers of the Plain no longer have only one buyer (BRALIMA) as was the case before. They now have the possibility to sell their produce on the Bukavu market through a network of distributors, creating employment for young people and women in all links of the value chain. An evaluation study revealed a 32% increase in farmers' incomes thanks to the new trade relations maintained through labelling.
“Nyange Nyange is not only a mark of respect for local rice, but also an opportunity to promote our profession and a way to revitalise rice production and the entire rice industry in the Ruzizi plain.” Mabange Nonge Constantin | Manager of the COOCAPA cooperative.
  • Traceability of rice in the production area: of the 8,384.47 tonnes of white rice sold after hulling by the involved cooperatives (in the period 2019-2021), 82.35 tonnes of white rice were certified Nyange Nyange and sold in the town of Bukavu and its outskirts.
  • Availability of Nyange Nyange rice: the product is available in 13 supermarkets in the city of Bukavu (Sharcom, La Manne, Exaudus, Maman Domi), and in the Ruzizi plain at the various certified cooperatives.  
"We lived on imports. We used to eat rice that we didn't even know when it was produced. But today, we have fresh rice that comes straight from the fields. For us it is a source of pride". Marcellin Bahaya | former provincial Minister of Agriculture, South Kivu.
  • Development of new business models around Nyange Nyange: efficient sorting of rice results in an important volume of broken rice, which would get a low price if it were sold as such. This has inspired young people and women to start MSMEs for manufacturing high quality food products (biscuits, porridges, cakes, puffed rice, etc.) from broken rice, allowing for product diversification and creating additional value in the rice sector.  

For consumers, Nyange Nyange rice is a strong competitor to imported rice, particularly Tanzanian and Pakistani rice. It is valued for six main attributes: taste, whiteness, ease of cooking, high purity, freshness and packaging. In addition, the packaging in bags of 5kg, 10kg and 25kg allows all segments of the population to buy what they can afford. However, the price still remains slightly higher than imported rice. Nyange Nyange estimates that the price will be more competitive if they are able to increase the volume or rice sold. To this end, Nyange Nyange is also focusing on reducing costs for producers, amongst others through group purchases of seeds and fertiliser and organising joint transportation.

Rice farmers and cooperatives still face difficulties

At production level, the dissemination of innovative technologies (SRI, ISFM, SRP) and superior varieties has improved yields. Unfortunately, the lack of infrastructure needed to ensure effective water management in the various rice-growing areas remains a major concern and limits the area available for cultivation. Rikolto is now introducing a community-based water management approach developed by Africa Rice (Smart Valley) for smaller perimeters.

The lack of processing equipment, particularly good quality mills, and the obsolescence of available equipment, lead to delays in delivery. New mills provided to the cooperatives by the PICAGL project are expected to solve this problem.

Marketing the produce is hampered by transport challenges. The road from the production to the consumption area is very dilapidated and steep, which makes the cost of transport very high. On the other hand, rice is sold on credit and buyers delay payment, stalling the normal cash cycle.

Ensuring permanent availability of Nyange Nyange rice on the urban market has been a major challenge. Preventing stock-outs is therefore a prerequisite and a necessity. To achieve this, an institutional framework for the joint marketing of Nyange Nyange rice was recently co-created in a workshop with cooperatives and economic operators: an effective collaboration model for labelled rice was designed in a win-win logic, aiming at an increase of quality and volume of production through access to agricultural credit, reducing fixed costs as well as the risk of non-payment of invoices by operators, and stabilising the price of rice on the market.

Challenges for the future  

  • The sustainability of the Nyange Nyange label. Indeed, the label is still subsidised, since the volume sold is still too low to allow it to cover all the costs of the label with the income it generates. However, its long-term sustainability is based on its autonomy. The self-financing mechanism will consist of levying a small amount from each kg sold. This requires an optimal volume of rice to be sold annually, and therefore more consumers must be familiarised with the labelled rice!
  • Replication of the model. The results of this first experiment (Nyange Nyange label) have been very encouraging. The model is currently being replicated in Kalemie, in the province of Tanganyika, where Rikolto is also involved in supporting rice farmers. The new label will be called ‘Magoyo rice’.

The trust attributed to the Nyange Nyange label is a key element in the successful promotion of local rice. It is an effective way to transform our food systems into more sustainable ones, reducing the fragility of food systems that depend on imports.

Editor: Heleen Verlinden - International Communications, Rikolto

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