"We were showing parboilers that what they do has an impact on the product downstream. If the quality is not good, people will not buy the product, so it’s in their interests to improve quality." ~ Etienne Mfoumou, NSCC Research Scientist
The Canadian government has committed $5.74M to a five-year CECI-led project that is enhancing production and demand for Burkina Faso’s rice.
At the Bama Rice Parboiling Centre, 30km north of Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso. (L to R) Bourima (Student Intern), Etienne Mfoumou (L4C Volunteer), Alimata Ouedraogo (Female Parboiler), and Simon Godin (Organizational Development Advisor).
For many of us, rice is wonderful staple that can be used to make a wide variety of meals. But for women in Burkina Faso, rice is more than nourishment; it’s part of their cultural identity and a vital source of income.
“Parboiling is a traditional process that has been handed down from mother to daughter for generations,” says Etienne Mfoumou, a research scientist at NSCC’s Waterfront Campus. “Parboiled rice is boiled in its husk. This protects the rice’s nutritional profile, thus increasing its value in the local market."
“It’s become a major growth industry,” Etienne continues, “going from $40,000 in revenue in 2009 to $400,000 currently. But despite that growth, the quality of rice remains well below customer expectations, which is hampering the product’s marketability.”
This past summer, Etienne travelled to Burkina Faso to help improve rice production, packaging and storage processes through the Leave For Change program. A unique collaboration among NSCC International, Organizational Learning and Uniterra – a Canadian international volunteer program – Leave For Change gives College employees an opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge in development projects around the world. The goal of the program is to build capacity, not just in the nations where projects take place, but also among participants, and the College community at large.
Although Etienne’s focus is typically on applied research and engineered technologies, he quickly determined the complexities of maintaining and upgrading a technology-based solution were unrealistic. Instead, he worked with the National Union of Rice Parboilers (UNERIZ) to find more practical solutions. They included ergonomic work practices and a pictograph system outlining the parboiling process.
“Many of these women have never gone to school, so if you give them a report on improvements, they aren’t going to read it. The pictograph offers easy-to-follow information right at their workstations.”
Sharing of knowledge opens doors
“The knowledge of parboiling best practices from Etienne will enable 3,800 parboilers to produce rice of better quality and to have access to more lucrative markets,” says Clementine Vimbamba, program officer with the Centre d'Etude et Cooperation Internationale (CEDI), a Canadian NGO running the Uniterra program. “This will help improve their socio-economic conditions.”
Due to a coup d’etat in Burkina Faso, there’s been a delay in implementing Etienne’s recommendations, so he’s currently looking at how his experiences could benefit the College community.
“It opens up new markets where our students can promote themselves and their skills. And it opens a window for applied research to get involved in more initiatives that address similar challenges in developing countries.”
Etienne hopes the next Leave For Change volunteer will work to implement his suggestions because time is of the essence. “There’s strong competition from imported rice, which is not as nutritious,” he notes. “The sooner they improve the quality of the product, the more they will sell and the more they will increase their income. That’s what this is about.”