My main work assignment is the Union de Etuve et Transformation de Riz de Banzon (UDTER-B). I more easily refer to it as the Women’s Rice Association. They process rice from the field into the ready to cook product we know. I will be helping them on the business side first and foremost, since I really had no clue how rice was processed until a few months ago. The women need help with general management, bookkeeping, budgeting, marketing, and computer training.
You want to know how you process rice though? I thought so! First you take dried rice from the field that is still in the chaff and steep the rice in hot water to help separate the kernel from the chaff. You then have to dry the rice again because if you try to fully remove the kernel now you’ll end up with a pulpy mess (no, I don’t know from personal experience). All the water used in this process is drawn hand over hand from a well, hundreds of gallons each day. The rice is raked across a very large concrete pad and dried with the help of the abundant African sun. The concrete pad has to be swept clean to make sure you don’t end up with too many rocks in the final product. Yes, too many rather than no rocks. It’s village-processed rice, what do you expect?
Once dry you then run it through the “decorticuse” (don’t quote that spelling), which removes the kernel and spits out everything else. The machine works with two abrasive spinning wheels that strip the chaff away from the kernel. If the spinning wheels aren’t close enough you get a lot of extra fiber in your rice. If the wheels are really close you remove the chaff as well as the cuticle that contains the vast majority of the rice’s vitamins and protein, or known as producing white rice. Land somewhere in the middle and you end up with brown rice.
At this point there is one last refining step, or last ditched effort, to end up with only rice. The last machine is hand-cranked and spits out rice on one end and other junk at the opposite end. If the women are extra fastidious they can take it a step further and pick out any black rice kernels by hand. The rice is then ready to go into a bag and be sewn shut. This whole process takes two days to transform a ton of rice from start to finish and the association processes five tons each week.
My village is able to produce thousands of tons of rice due to a dam and channel system built in the early 70’s by a Chinese organization. Water is diverted from the river to flood the rice fields, for nearly year-round planting, tending, and harvesting. Over ten different varieties are grown in my village, most of them Asian in origin. There is current interest by several organizations to promote African rice, because it is more ecologically sound. I worry about development upstream of my village, since it would affect the water flow and livelihood of Banzon. For now though, I try to help where I can, extremely slowly and optimistically surely.