La Manne, a supermarket in the heart of Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), was bustling with activity and customers eager to make their evening purchases before heading home for supper. We stepped in and headed to the section right up front – there were piles of neatly stacked bags of rice (ranging from 1kg to 25kgs) with an intriguing blue logo that caught our attention. This was the now-famous Nyange-Nyange rice of South Kivu that was introduced to consumers in June 2021 after an intensive period involving, inter alia, an analysis of the local rice value chain and strategies for improving rice productivity, quality and commercialization, through a partnership between private sector technical assistance provider Rikolto, farmers groups, and the provincial Ministry of Agriculture of South Kivu. The work was supported under the aegis of the World Bank’s Regional Integrated Great Lakes Agriculture Development Project (PICAGL – Projet Intégré de Croissance Agricole dans les Grands Lacs), which includes the provinces of South Kivu and Tanganyika in DRC as well as neighboring Burundi (PRDAIGL – Projet Régional de Développement Agricole Intégré dans les Grands Lacs). Both projects have been under implementation since 2018.
The Nyange is an egret (Egretta alba) found in rice fields in eastern DRC. It is also a Swahili word that symbolizes purity, peace, health and cleanliness in the collective imagination of the people of South Kivu.
Prior to the introduction of Nyange-Nyange rice, consumers in Bukavu and neighboring towns were reliant on expensive rice imports mainly from Pakistan and Tanzania. Thanks to the support from PICAGL, local rice cooperatives received technical assistance and support to improve their yields from 2t/ha to 4t/ha and have benefitted from training in drying and post-harvest technologies. The quality assurance system in place assesses the rice along multiple dimensions including cleanliness, color, uniformity, homogeneity (less than 10% broken), and taste, in line with the guidelines of the global Sustainable Rice Platform which aims to improve smallholder livelihoods while reducing the social, environmental and climate footprint of rice production. Consumers were regularly surveyed to assess the quality and taste of the rice. Today, less than six months after its introduction in the market, the Nyange-Nyange rice is flying off the shelves. The rice cooperatives that have been certified with the Nyange-Nyange label supply about 10t/month to four supermarkets in Bukavu.
What has made this initiative unique is the attention paid end-to-end of the value chain and the multiple partnerships that it embeds. In addition to the partnerships between the producers, wholesalers, and retailers, the PICAGL project in DRC and its sister project in Burundi (PRDAIGL) have partnered with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) research institutions, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), to ensure that the benefits of the research and technologies developed under this project – a regional public good – are disseminated widely. In addition to improving agronomic practices and yields, equal attention has been paid to consumer demand and preferences. Food waste has also been curtailed. For rice that is more than 15% broken, a local entrepreneur has employed 35 local youth to process it into nutritious cookies and biscuits – adding soyabean flour, spirulina, chia seeds and even insect flour – to boost the nutritious content of the products. La Manne supermarket also carries these products which have also seen a good demand.
While this is a remarkable success story that has helped create a sense of local pride in an important commodity such as rice, challenges remain. Germaine Mirindi, the regional director of Rikolto in DRC, informed us that it has tapped less than 15% of the productive potential due to the lack of assured irrigation. Scaling up mechanization and improving access to credit are some of the other challenges. But the Nyange-Nyange farmers we spoke to are undeterred and have ambitious plans. By 2026, they expect to reach 3,000 MT/year, bringing at least 5,000 farmers into the fold and reaching markets in Goma. Institutional buyers such as local school cafeterias, WFP, and UNICEF have also expressed interest in obtaining their supplies from Nyange-Nyange.
Given the ongoing challenges in eastern DRC, this regional project (after an initial delayed start) now offers green shoots of hope to local communities and is facilitating greater “agri-preneurship” among local youth, thereby contributing to stabilization and economic recovery in some of the most fragile and conflict-affected areas in the country.