The Secrets of Watché, the African Fried Rice

West Africans in general are crazy about watché for breakfast. The Togolese are no exception. The recipe for this African fried rice? Rice, some beans – the rest is a well-guarded secret. Watché is certainly not made with just any rice. It is prepared with parboiled rice, and that
makes all the difference. That is the source of the relished watché
fragrance and flavor. In Anié, 200 kilometers north of Lomé, Togo, the makeshift sheds never empty in the morning. Everyone is entitled to his or her dish of
watché. Yet some consumers have reservations as to its quality because of the occasional little stones or sand found in their plate; and the choosiest among them prefer long grain rice of better quality. Ebiro Kadokalih and her Femmes Vaillantes cooperative here in Anié have been at it seven years, seeking to satisfy those demanding customers. “The rice that we process here in Anié
provides the same flavor and fragrance as authentic watché. The difference is that we use a parboiler
that produces very clean rice without any breakage.”’ A parboiler is simply a kind of giant metal
strainer placed on a pot with water. Once on the fire, the steam generated parboils
the rice at gentle heat. “When we had no parboiler, we used to put
the rice, unhusked, in the pot. That caused us to lose more than 3 of every
100 kilos. Now that we have obtained the parboiler, we
have zero loss, and we are saving time.” The Femmes Vaillantes of Anié learned the
parboiler technique through the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAPP). “WAAPP trained us in using a parboiler. They then provided us with a pot and parboiler
set. That changed our habits.” Thanks to this equipment, Ebiro and her Femmes
Vaillantes cooperative of Anié changed course, became more competitive, and have access to
more customers. One person who immediately took to their rice
is sister Georgette, member of a local congregation. “You just add a bit of onion and oil. It’s great!” Watché is served on all occasions. Sister Georgette is expecting guests in the
evening, but she will run out of stock. “You came at the right time! I’ll take that.” There is definitely a market for parboiled
rice. Demand for it is incessantly high, according
to the watché producers. But how are they to get enough rice to meet
it? Traditional farming methods do not always
yield the volume needed. So, the Femmes Vaillantes of Anié took to
rice transplanting, and now swear only by that technique. “The earlier dibbling and broadcasting methods
yielded hardly two metric tons per hectare, compared to six or even seven metric tons
per hectare currently attained by transplanting. As a result, our incomes increased. I actually learned that technique as part
of training that WAAPP enabled me to attend in Mali.” The Femmes Vaillantes now champion rice transplanting,
urging farmers to adopt it. It certainly is worth the effort. Their rising incomes prove so. “This activity enabled the members of the
cooperative to improve their incomes. They no longer feel poor. Take me, I am widowed. This activity allows me to provide for my
entire family and send my children to school.” Ebiro and her fellow workers now think big. “If we can have the resources, our dream
is a parboiling center in due form. That would allow us to produce more to meet
the demand.”

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