How Rice Afrika is using technology to increase rice yield

Anand Laishram
We, in Manipur love rice. We greet people by asking if they had had rice. Most of the people in Manipur are farmers. Most of the farmers are involved in farming rice.We have our own unique types of rice. In short, rice is an indispensable part of life in Manipur.
And yet, when it comes to rice production, we aren’t very good at it.
According to statistics from the ICAR, Manipur’s rice production per hectare is about 2.5 metric tons, which is well below that of states like Punjab, with yields of about 4 metric tons per hectare.
And that is just in India. Countries like China (6.5 metric tons/ hectare) and Vietnam (about 6 metric tons/ hectare), for instance, have achieved way higher yield.
The lower yield points to the inefficiencies in the rice production system in Manipur.
In this week’s article, we will look at one company in Nigeria, which is tackling the same problemof low rice yield, by employing an integrated, tech-enabled approach.
Nigerians are also highly fond of rice and rice farming is a major occupation in that country.
However, the rice yield per hectare is a meagre 2 metric tons/ hectare.
The main cause for the lower yield is inefficiency, due to a lack of mechanization.
Mechanization in the rice farming sector in Nigeria is a paltry 0.3 horsepower/ hectare. India’s is 2.6 hp/ha and China’s is 8.2 hp/ha.
Due to lack of mechanization, manual harvesting is the only option left to farmers.
It requires 100 to 150 person-hours to harvest one hectare of rice field.
The reliance on manual harvesting also increases the cost of production.
In Nigeria, the cost for harvesting 1 hectare of rice field is $100.
In a country like Nigeria, where 90 percent of the population is below the poverty line and 60 percent of household income is spent on food, such a high cost of production is very problematic.
By contrast, if combine harvesters are used instead, the results are drastically improved. Cost of production can be significantly brought down, which will create enormous value for the Nigerian public.
A combine harvester is 60000% more efficient than manual harvesting.
1 acre of land requires about 30 workers to work for 15 hours. 1 combine harvester can do the same job in less than 1 hour.
The cost of harvesting 1 hectare falls down to $35 to $40 with a combine harvester.
Mechanization, in short, can go a long way in boosting rice production yield and freeing up a lot of person-hours, which can be utilized in other productive avenues.
In order to solve this issue, Rice Afrika Technologies was started in 2020.
It employs a multi-pronged approach to solve the problem of lower rice production yield:
1) Harvester hiring service
It allows farmers to hire combine harvesters.
The company sources the harvesters from manufacturers in China and Japan.
They train local youth to operate and service these combine harvesters.
This not only allows farmers to utilize the harvesters, thereby resulting in increased productivity, but also creates local jobs (such as harvester operators, harvester mechanics, harvester booking agents).
2) Precision farming solutions for the farmers
Rice Afrika provides farmers with services such as weather reports, soil analysis, climate analysis, IoT (Internet of Things) driven insights, informed crop management decisions, techniques for increasing yield etc.
This helps farmers make better farming decisions and utilize better farming practices, which help them improve their yield.
3) Guaranteed off-take of produce at the farm gate
Rice Afrika purchases rice from the farmers they partner with.
Their ability to aggregate demand from the farmers and understand supply better, allows them to offer the farmers a premium price for their rice.
They then use the rice to sell their premium packaged brand of parboiled rice.
People can buy this rice from Rice Afrika through their website or mobile app among others.
Rice Afrika also employs a flexible payment mechanism, wherein farmers can pay for the company’s services with their rice produce, in case they aren’t able to pay money at the time.
The company has also developed RiceID, a crop identification and management system, which allows customers to track the source of rice. This helps ensure that farmers and customers aren’t affected by counterfeiters.
Rice Afrika is also developing a mobile agency banking system, in order to facilitate frictionless financial transactions among the stakeholders in the rice value chain, viz. the farmers, the buyers/ customers etc.
Till date, Rice Afrika has hired out harvesters to more than 5000 farmers. Farmers who have worked with Rice Afrika have been able to increase productivity by 50% and decrease fertilizer usage by 40%.
They have also processed more than 2000 metric tons of Rice.
For their efforts, Rice Afrika recently won the World Economic Forum’s Circulars Accelerator Cohort 2022, which awards circular economy innovators.
Their integrated approach, which goes beyond just purchasing farming machines and providing it to farmers, is a step in the right direction when it comes to solving food production issues and increasing production yield.
We, in Manipur, may have an insight or two to pick up from them.