NIGERIA-CANADA: Project to boost rice production

Universities in Canada, Nigeria and Benin are partners in a three-year project aimed at improving rice production, processing and conservation in West Africa. One objective of the research involving Canada's McGill University and numerous African institutions is to produce prototype parboiling rice equipment to assist small and medium-scale rice producers.

The project is expected to cost around US$366,000 and is jointly funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, the West African Rice Development Authority and McGill University.

Cassava is the major staple food crop in West Africa. For many years it gave rise to collaborations between tertiary institutions in Nigeria and Benin, and international and non-governmental organisations. Rice is the second staple food crop and follows the same pattern.

Academics and students in agricultural departments at tertiary institutions in Bida, Makurdi, Ibadan and Ado Ekiti in Nigeria, and in Cotonou and Dassa-Sauve in neighbouring Benin, are collaborating with the department of bio-resource engineering at McGill and the West African Rice Development Authority, WARDA, in researching rice production and processing.

Michael Ngadi, a Nigerian professor in the department at McGill, has been working on the project with WARDA for the past four years. Ngadia is the principal coordinator - along with McGill colleague Professor Robert Kok - and they recently visited Nigeria and Benin for an on-the-spot assessment of rice production and processing.

The aims of the network of university researchers, students and organisations are four-fold: producing more rice, improving its quality, using alternative sources of energy at the parboiling stage of processing, and developing affordable parboiling equipment for low-income rice farmers.

Regarding rice production, Ngadi lamented the wastage of rice grains: 30-40% of total rice produced is wasted through losses during the storage and parboiling stages, he said, resulting in large losses in the amount of rice available.

In both countries, about 50% of rice consumed is imported. "Nigeria is one of the world's largest importers of rice," Ngadi declared, noting that rice was important to the country for food security. "Therefore we have to assist local people to produce more high quality rice."

Kok identified another problem facing rice production in Nigeria and Benin: quality control. Many producers dried the rice in the open air with the result that it collected stones and dust so that consumers preferred imported rice because the quality was better.

"We are going to improve the quality of what local rice farmers produce so it can compete successfully with imported rice, and this will result in economic opportunities for local farmers," Kok said.

Another area of major concern was the wastage of rice husks and bran which were thrown away by farmers. "We hope to convert them into fuel so that farmers would not use wood anymore," he said

The McGill team has almost completed development of a new type of parboiling equipment. It will be cheaper than the existing equipment which costs about US$125 - a sum that many farmers cannot afford - and is technically simple.

"We are working on the redesign and the fabrication because a lot of women in villages indicated they do not have much money," said Kok. "We should be able to bring it down to about 1/10th the cost.

He said the new equipment would do the same job and would be simple to use because it did not involve high technology.