Burkinabe women design an innovative, sustainable business model

Burkinabe women design an innovative, sustainable business model

Franchising allows them to improve the quality of home-parboiled rice, and sell it at a higher price
This project is part of the following focus area:

The Burkinabes are fond of rice, that is no secret. They particularly love parboiled rice, rice that has been steamed and dried before being hulled. This process also makes parboiled rice more nutritious than its non-parboiled counterpart. A better guarded secret is the fact that Burkina’s much-loved parboiled rice would likely have disappeared, if it hadn’t been for women.

Historically, rice in Burkina Faso was mostly produced by men. They sold their crop to the state, who would then parboil the rice and resell it. When the state decided to liberalise the rice trade, these rice farmers suddenly found themselves without buyers and markets. Their wives, worried by the fact that their husbands would lose their income, decided to organise themselves to start parboiling rice. They founded UNERIZ, the Union Nationale des Etuveuses de Riz du Burkina or National Female Rice Parboilers’ Union.

Without women, no development. It is crucial to invest in female entrepreneurs.

Salimata Sanon Secretary General of UNERIZ

Currently, over 16,000 women engage in rice parboiling across Burkina Faso. 3,790 of them are a member of UNERIZ. UNERIZ encompasses twelve sub-unions in different departments, which each have a collective parboiling centre. In these parboiling centres, women can parboil their rice in a hygienic setting and make use of adequate infrastructure. They also have access to trainings on processing techniques. The rice parboiled at collective centres is of high quality, meets the market demands and leads to a higher income for women parboilers.

However, these collective parboiling centres do not have sufficient capacity. Currently, only approximately one quarter of the rice of UNERIZ’ members is parboiled in the centres. Rotation systems were set up in each centre, but, because of the high demand, women get attributed only a short amount of time. Women thus parboil the additional three quarters of rice at home. However, at their homes, they lack the infrastructure and learning opportunities to reach the quality expected by the market. Rice parboiled at home has important flaws, including left-over hulls, small stones that are mixed up with the rice, or black grains. The market price for rice parboiled at home is consequently also lower than for higher quality parboiled rice.

Rikolto and UNERIZ have joined forces to develop an alternative business model, that allows for quality parboiling at home, and that complements the parboiling done in the collective parboiling centres.


  • Rice production in Burkina Faso is threatened by climate change, and the volumes of rice harvested are not stable. It is crucial to work with rice producers and women parboilers on the preservation of the environment to ensure a stable supply of rice.

  • Rice producers are not willing to sell their rice to the parboilers on trust; they want to be paid immediately, and not after the women have sold their rice.

  • Women parboilers have difficulties to pay rice producers upfront. They rarely have access to working capital, thus have to rely on their income, which only allows them to buy small quantities of rice at once.

  • Women parboil about three quarters of their rice at home, as the collective parboiling centres do not have sufficient capacity. However, rice parboiled at home has a lower quality, as women do not have the necessary capital to buy the equipment needed to process the rice.

  • Women parboilers often have weak entrepreneurial skills: they are not aware of the rice market, prices, bookkeeping skills, etc.

  • UNERIZ does not have a brand name or recognisable packaging for its rice, which makes it difficult to launch a marketing campaign and gain consumer recognition.

Our strategy

Rikolto and UNERIZ have joined forces to co-create an alternative business model, namely a franchise model. This model allows for quality parboiling at home by individual women or small enterprises of women, and complements the parboiling done in the centres.

  1. Rikolto and UNERIZ co-create a franchise model. In this model, UNERIZ adopts the role of franchisor rendering services to enterprises of women parboilers. The women are the franchisees. Concretely, these services include for example that UNERIZ foresees the material for women to parboil at home, gives women access to credit, organises training on the use of the parboiling materials and entrepreneurial skills, …

  2. The business model will be tested by a dozen women of four of UNERIZ’s sub-unions, based in Bama, Banzon, Douna and Karfiguela. When the profitability of the model is proven, the experiment will be extended to all UNERIZ members.

  3. The lessons learned during the test period will be shared in multi-stakeholder meetings in Burkina Faso and during regional agro-conferences; a ‘marketing’ strategy vis-à-vis parboilers and parboiler unions will be developed to convince them of the benefits of the model.

Rikolto works together with UNERIZ. Its 3,730 members (all women) are the key beneficiaries of this project. Indirect beneficiaries include the rice producers, and urban and rural consumers who gain access to higher quality rice.

Results reached 2014-2016

Rikolto has been working together with UNERIZ since 2011 to strengthen the position of women parboilers in the Burkinabe society and increase their income. From 2014 onwards, Rikolto has supported UNERIZ’ sub-union in Douna to set up a collective rice parboiling centre, to allow the parboilers to improve the quality of their rice and sell at a higher price. Meanwhile, this model has been replicated in UNERIZ’ other sub-unions.

  • From 2014 until 2016, the % of rice parboiled in Douna of which the quality corresponded to the market needs increased from 20% to 75%; and the % of rice with flaws and impurities decreased to 10%.

  • From 2014 until 2016, the % of rice processed in the Douna centre that was sold collectively by the sub-union, increased from 5% to 80%; the total sales volumes increased from 120 to 420 tonnes. The main buyer of parboiled rice, SONAGESS, yearly renovates its contract.

  • Women parboilers saw their income increase to approximately 450,000 francs CFA yearly since the opening of the collective parboiling centre. They indicate that these revenues from selling parboiled rice give them an important independence from their husbands, which contributes to their empowerment.

  • Women parboilers have learned best practices to reduce water usage during the parboiling process, and tests have been done to replace the traditional wood fires with solar panels and with briquets made of rice hulls.

  • UNERIZ has signed two contracts with Coris Bank for working capital, at low interest rates (8%).

What do we expect by the end of 2018?

  • A business model (franchising model) adapted to the needs of the women parboilers is developed in co-creation.

  • The income of women parboilers who are a member of UNERIZ grows sustainably, because they sell higher volumes of quality parboiled rice.

  • The business model helps women overcome several challenges: UNERIZ offers the right services to parboiling women, their entrepreneurial and parboiling skills improve, and women can sell their rice more easily thanks to the existence of a rice brand known by consumers for its good quality.

What do we expect in the long run?

The model, if proven feasible from a financial, cultural, socio-economic and environmental point of view, will be scaled up in Burkina Faso, and across West-Africa.


Joint Action for Farmer Organisations in West-Africa

Anton Jurgens Fund

ODO Ondernemers voor Ondernemers

Michel Tougma
Michel Tougma
Programme Manager Burkina Faso
+ 226 70 74 57 18