Monday, November 15, 2010

Subsistence Rice Farming in Bangladesh---How simple tools can reduce waste and increase food security

By Steve Laible, CTI Volunteer

Rice is arguably the most important food crop in the world--it provides more than 1/5 of the world's total caloric intake.The vast majority of rice is produced by farmers in developing countries, but before rice becomes the ready-to-eat grain that you find in the supermarket, farmers have to perform several post-harvest processing steps including threshing, winnowing, drying, cleaning, storing, and hulling.

Farmers in developing countries lose 15-16% of their rice crop after harvest because they are dependent on rudimentary tools and inefficient processing methods. In some countries, post-harvest rice losses can be as high as 40-50%.

A week ago, my wife and I arrived in Parbatipur, in northwest Bangladesh, to test a new technology to help subsistence farmers improve the process of hulling rice. Rice hulls are a hard protective coating that needs to be removed from the rice grain before it is consumed. Many farmers in developing countries still hull their rice by beating their harvest against the ground or smashing it with a mortar and pestle (see video below). These traditional hulling methods are very inefficient and contribute greatly to farmers' post-harvest rice losses.

Over the next few days we will be field testing a new burr that has been developed to husk rice with CTI's grinder. I'm happy to report that our very small sample trial shows great promise. In initial tests, the new husking burr is able to able to remove the outer coating of  non-edible material.

The output from one pass through the grinder is a combination of rice with brown skin and the particles of husk combined. The next step is to winnow (or separate the rice from the non-edible material). The resulting "brown rice" can then be  prepared for eating, with all the nutritional value of brown rice intact. Or the brown rice can be passed through the grinder with adjusted setting to produce white rice.

We have more work to do to set up the essentials for the field test which has the major objective of testing the durability of the rice hulling burr. If the durability of the rice husking burr is demonstrated, I believe there are significant opportunities for practical application of the grinder and rice husking burr to places in the world that grow rice and depend on rice as a staple.

I also believe there are related opportunities to enhance the nutritional prospects for lots of people by supplementing the rice (brown or white) with protein and vitamins.

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