Rice has become a strategic commodity for food security in Africa. Demand is growing faster than for any other food staple, because of changes in consumer preferences, rapid urbanization and population growth. Rice is West Africa’s single most important source of dietary energy and the third most important for sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) as a whole. Thus, improvement of the nutritional quality of rice-based diets is crucial to improving the health of African populations.
As part of its mission, AfricaRice seeks to develop and deploy healthier and more nutritious (micronutrient fortified, bio-fortified and low glycemic) rice to vulnerable populations in SSA.
One approach to improve nutrition status of rice is fortification. AfricaRice and its partners have explored direct fortification of rice foods with mineral and vitamin rice-premixes that deliver recommended daily intakes of essential micronutrients. Their study showed that direct rice fortification could be used to enhance the nutritional wellbeing of populations with predominantly rice-based diets.
The other approach is biofortification, which is genetic improvement of rice for the higher content of nutritional elements in grains. AfricaRice has not yet developed any biofortified product, but some potential donors have been identified; e.g. Oryza glaberrima (African rice) genotypes with high protein content.
Slower-digesting rice is a healthy option to help people with diabetes. AfricaRice is exploring the development of rice-based products with slower digestibility through processing.
The Center has developed an improved rice parboiling technology called GEM in short for ‘Grain quality enhancer, Energy-efficient and durable Material,’ which produces rice of high physical and eating quality compared with the traditional technology.
Parboiling of rice or partially boiling rice in the husk, is done in general to reduce the breakage in milling. AfricaRice researchers have found that if it is properly carried out, rice parboiling significantly improves the physical, eating and nutritional quality of the milled rice compared to non-parboiled rice.
The nutritive value of the milled rice is enhanced by parboiling, because the micronutrients present in the bran, which is usually removed in the whitening process in the rice mill, are carried into the endosperm.
This special processing renders parboiled rice a better source of fiber, protein, calcium, potassium, thiamine, niacin and vitamin B-6, with a lower glycemic index and higher resistant starch content than regular white rice. Parboiled rice is therefore more nutritious than white rice.
In addition, parboiled rice has been shown to possess some unique cooking, flavor, and textural characteristics, which are appealing to certain groups of consumers. It is less liable to insect damage than milled raw rice and has an improved storage life.
AfricaRice recognizes, however, that rice cannot meet all nutritional needs and is therefore supporting the option of diversification with vegetables and fish combined with rice-based systems. The Center also realizes that to have impacts in Africa, upgrading of the whole rice value chain is needed as well as product development.