AfricaRice innovations that have impacted the livelihoods of women in Africa

(Blog post courtesy of Dr Gaudiose Mujawamariya, Rice Value Chain Expert and Gender Focal Point, AfricaRice)



As the world celebrates the International Women’s Day, in line with this year’s theme of Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”, AfricaRice revisits its innovations and how they have impacted the livelihoods of women in Africa. For the past fifty years, CGIAR in general, and Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) in particular, have led ground-breaking research on many fronts that has been transforming the lives of millions of rural households in Africa.


AfricaRice has contributed significantly to boosting Africa’s rice sector through improved seeds, cropping practices, processing technologies, policy advice and capacity development. The integration of women into the AfricaRice-led interventions and innovations has been growing steadily; women being one of the main drivers of developing rice value chain and occupying several positions from production, through processing and marketing, to household consumption.


With the transformation into a One-CGIAR, AfricaRice is at the forefront in promoting a set of rice-based technological and institutional innovations which, promoted by women and youth, will contribute to improving food safety and security and increasing their adaptation to climate change and sustainable landscape management.


To name a few of the innovations, first through the Africa-wide Rice Breeding Task Force led by AfricaRice, several newly improved rice varieties were developed, released and disseminated, including NERICAs, ARICAs, high-quality aromatic series called ORYLUX, SAHELs, Stress-tolerant rice varieties for poor farmers in Africa, WITAs and WABs. In the 2014-2020 period alone, 138 varieties were released. These varieties, selected by farmers in several African countries through the participatory varietal selection (PVS) process, improve the rice productivity of several million African households.


The PVS approach was adopted to enable farmers and plant breeders to collectively identify improved varieties best suited to the producers. In the PVS process, special attention is paid to getting feedback from women farmers, whose preferences often turned out to be quite different from those of men. Early maturity for example is much appreciated by farmers, especially women farmers, as it allows them to have food during the ‘hunger period’ while waiting for the harvest of other crops.


Concretely in Benin, the impact of the adoption of NERICA varieties could be translated to an average of 710 kg/ha, the effect was higher for women than for men with that of women estimated at 970 kg/ha and that for men estimated at only 260 kg/ha (Agboh-Noameshie et al., 2007). Also, in Côte d′Ivoire, a significant impact estimated at 700 kg/ ha was observed for women (Diagne et al., 2009).


In addition to the household food and nutrition needs, working with women has shown the relevance of gendered roles such as plant type preference, with the men preferring tall rice plants when they are responsible for livestock keeping, while women prefer easy to thresh varieties as they oversee the threshing and winnowing activities (Mujawamariya et al., 2022). The impact assessment of the adoption of improved varieties in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has shown that 8 million persons have been lifted out of poverty as a result of the adoption of these varieties (Arouna et al., 2017).


The agronomic innovations, that are sustainably intensifying, and diversifying rice-based food production systems are also changing the lives of women as well. The Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), an integrated set of recommended crop management practices for increasing rice yield – including land-preparation options (bunding and field-levelling), variety choice, crop establishment, weed management, fertilizer management (especially via RiceAdvice), among others – were piloted in many African countries. More than 50,000 farmers in 21 AfricaRice member countries directly benefitted from these production gains, which increase rice yield by two to three-folds.


Most GAP component technologies are designed to improve water use and soil fertility, reduce pest and disease pressure. In other cases, while women could benefit from the technologies, it is correct to acknowledge that, especially in agriculture, they may be limited by the lack of land ownership or access to marginal lands.


Technologies like the Smart-valleys, which can be adopted by land users and not necessarily the owners, would ensure that both men and women farmers can benefit from its adoption; for the households in Benin, Togo, Liberia and Sierra Leone that have adopted the Smart-valleys approach, their yield increased by an average of 0.92 to 1.32 tons per hectare, income by US$267 to US$440 per hectare, and food security by more than 4 to 10 points on the Food Consumption Score. In fact, the impact of Smart-valleys increased food security of women-headed household by 21 points against only 9 points for men (Arouna et al., 2019). It is good to note that indeed more than 60% of the Smart-valleys adopters are women.


The work on mechanization has been instrumental to reduce the labor requirement. For example, the mechanical and motorized weeders, threshers and winnowers are set to reduce the labor time for weeding, which benefit women the most.


Last but not least, is the example of rice parboiling which is carried out mainly by rural women and contributes significantly to their livelihoods. To reduce their drudgery and to improve the milling yield and quality of local rice, AfricaRice designed and improved rice parboiling system – called GEM. The GEM (Grain quality enhancer, Energy-efficient and durable Material) improved rice-parboiling technology, developed by AfricaRice, produces quality rice, processes large quantities of rice relatively quickly, is energy efficient, and safer to operate than traditional methods — particularly for female and younger processors.


Over 3,500 women rice processors in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Nigeria and Togo have been trained in the use of the GEM rice-parboiling system. Empowered with technical knowledge and skills, they have turned rice parboiling into a profitable enterprise. With GEM technology, processors can get a profit of US$ 392 for every ton of rice parboiled compared to parboilers using the traditional system. It reduces expenditure on firewood from US$ 1.83 to 0.64 per 100 kg of paddy parboiled.


The above examples are just a few of the innovations, illustrating the increasing interest and results achieved with the gender integration through the work carried out by AfricaRice scientists and partners. As the CGIAR enters the new era under the One CGIAR's new 2030 Research and Innovation Strategy, the above innovations and others, which clearly have power of gender transformation will be scaled out to improve the livelihoods and transform the food, land and water systems for a sustainable and inclusive future, especially in SSA.