Burkina Faso: Women solve fuel problem with rice husks (by Inoussa Maiga for Farm Radio Weekly in Burkina Faso)

| August 15, 2011

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Boiling rice is an energy intensive activity. For years, the women of the rice processors union in Bama, Burkina Faso, used wood as energy. But this was very expensive. Mariam Sawadogo is president of the union. She says, “To parboil two tons of rice, we used at least 5000 CFA [around ten US dollars] of wood.”

There are around 300 women in the Sinignassigui Union of Rice Processors (in French, Union des Groupements d’Etuveuses Sinignassigui). Each year, they parboil nearly 1000 tonnes of rice which they buy from farmers. The women first soak the rice, then cook it partially. It is then sun-dried and husked, ready to be sold on the local market.

As well as the cost of wood, another issue faced by the women was the waste rice husks.  Mrs. Sawadogo says, “We did not know what to do with the rice husks. Even the producers did not want them for composting, because the husks do not break down easily.” The rice husks began piling up, making the union’s premises look like a landfill site.

In 2009, a group of Canadian students from the University of Sherbrooke visited the women. This visit changed everything. Mrs. Sawadogo said, “We shared our problems related to energy. The students designed an oven that uses rice husks as fuel.” The students worked with a local blacksmith who then began to produce the oven.

The oven is 30 centimetres tall. The cooking pot sits on the metal top. The husks burn in a funnel-shaped combustion chamber. It is designed so that the husks burn efficiently, not too fast and not too slowly. The oven is sold in the market at 1500 CFA, around three US dollars.

Using this oven has radically changed the lives of the women. They no longer need wood. Now they parboil rice using only husks as fuel. Around ten of these ovens are in use every day on the union’s premises.

As the rice husks are free, the financial impact is considerable. Mahamadi Ouédraogo is director of the union. He says, “For each bag of 100 kg of parboiled rice, we gain an additional 700 FCFA [one and a half dollars].”

Now, blacksmiths manufacture the ovens and sell them locally. They are very popular, as most households produce enough husks to power the ovens. Mrs. Sawadogo says, “Virtually all households in Bama use this oven to cook their meals.”