Most of the research done on rice is focused on one thing—how to increase production. And while increasing productivity is important, especially when millions of people depend on rice as an important staple in their diets, it’s not the only thing breeders and farmers should be concerned about. “There’s no use increasing production,” says Matty Demont, a researcher at the Africa Rice Center office in Saint Louis, Senegal, “if there isn’t good quality.”
Danielle Nierenberg with Matty Demont, researcher at the Africa Rice Center, in Saint Louis, Senegal. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)
The Africa Rice Center has been focused mainly on production, but is now, says Demont, “trying to evolve more into demand issues.” In other words, the Center is working to make the quality of local rice better. Although Senegal produced some 500,000 tonnes of rice in 2009 alone, most consumers tend to prefer “foreign” rice from Asia. Rice from Senegal River Valley is considered inferior and, says Demont, “notorious for stones,” making it more labor intensive for women who have to pick through it before cooking it.
The Center is working with both producers to improve quality and processing, while also working with consumers to encourage them to buy the local—and less expensive—rice. Researchers have worked with farmers to develop better rice processing that helps eliminate stones in rice, as well as better packaging and branding of local rice. They then conducted experimental auctions to find out what consumers thought of the rice and what they would be willing to pay for it. Not only would most of the women surveyed choose the local quality product, but they were also willing to pay more for it.
By helping farmers add value to the rice, Africa Rice Center is helping to raise incomes, improve the rice quality, and expand the market for locally produced goods.
Stay tuned for more about our visit with Africa Rice Center.