The rice supply chain – from water plant to world food staple

Rabobank Foundation and rice: CEP

The Rabobank Foundation works with CEP, an independent Vietnamese non-profit organisation providing microcredit to rice farmers that they can use to start a business and improve their income. CEP also supports the very poorest farmers with financial education, scholarships for children of members, healthcare information and basic necessities. CEP has 90,000 members in rural areas, most of them families with an average income of between EUR 0.60 and EUR 1.60 a day. This is a very difficult target group to reach, and one that is often overlooked by government banks.

Rijst ondernemers

Vietnam: big in rice

Vietnam is second only to Thailand as the world's biggest rice exporter. Here, the rice market is growing fast and farmers are working hard to increase production. Enterprise, expansion of scale and partnerships are all becoming increasingly critical factors for success in the rice business.

Zaaien verpoten

Sowing and replanting

The farmers sow rice seeds very close together in a small field, giving them repeated doses of fertilizer over a period of about 25 days, until they can pull the plants from the ground and remove their tops. This stimulates firm root growth. The farmers then replant each individual plant with a good distance between them – the ideal distance being 30 cm. A special measuring stick is sometimes used to do this.

Onkruid wieden

Ducks on patrol

rice farmers weed the rice paddies by hand. Often, they also set ducks loose in the paddies as a form of natural pest control, as these birds eat the pests among the plants. The farmers fertilise the soil two more times between replanting and harvesting. When the plants are one to two metres high, they have a plume at their tops, each containing about 40 grains of rice. After 40 days, the farmer reaps the rice plants at the base with a small sickle and bundles them.

Groen van rijst scheiden

Separating the green from the rice

The farmer strikes the bundles of rice against a mat. This shakes the rice grains loose. He can then separate the grains from the green leaf using a sieve. The rice must then be dried for three days. The rice is still covered in an inedible membrane or husk at this stage, and is called 'paddy rice'. The farmer can store his paddy rice at home until prices are good enough for him to sell.

Paddy zilvervlies

From paddy to unpolished rice

The farmer then takes his paddy rice, packed in 50kg sacks, to the rice miller. Many of them do this by moped. The miller checks the weight and pays the farmer directly. Average price is around EUR 9.80 per sack. The miller measures the moisture percentage of the paddy rice and dries the grains again in a large machine. Fifteen tonnes of rice takes 30 hours to dry. Then, another machine separates the rice husk from the grains. The bran layer is now still covering the rice.

Laserstralen sorteren

Sorting the grains by laser beam

A sorting machine uses a laser to separate the whole grains from the broken ones. The whole grains are destined for consumption and export; broken grains are sold locally and either eaten or used to make rice wine or rice paper. The miller packages the rice in 50kg sacks and then sells them to a middleman for around EUR 24 per sack. Of the 40 million tonnes of rice that Vietnam produces annually, 7 million goes to export. Most exported rice comes from the Mekong delta.

Rice for the world

For a huge percentage of the world population, rice is the most important food. China is the world's biggest producer and consumer of rice.

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