Rice experts roll out new stress-tolerant rice varieties for Africa

Minister-of-Agriculture-Dr-AKINWUMI-ADESINABy Abdallah el-Kurebe with Agency reports

Reports released on Saturday in Cotonou, Benin Republic by the Africa-wide Rice Breeding Task Force, which was convened by the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice), has stated that six varieties with improved tolerance to environmental stresses as Advanced Rice Varieties for Africa (ARICA), were recently nominated.

According to the report, the ARICA varieties were selected through a rigorous multi-environment testing process including regional and national trials as well as participatory varietal selection involving farmers.

Dr Moussa Sié, AfricaRice Senior Breeder and Breeding Task Force Coordinator said: “This is the second series of nominations since the ARICA brand was launched in 2013 to offer farmers a new generation of high-performing rice varieties for Africa.”

To be eligible for such nomination as ARICA, Sie continued, a variety must have a significant advantage over the benchmark in a region over 3 years and must be backed by solid data. “Improved rice varieties that are approved for release by countries are also considered.”

One of the six stress-tolerant ARICAs nominated was particularly notable because it combined tolerance to two stresses – iron toxicity and cold.

The report stated the following six varieties: For rainfed and irrigated lowland ecologies (1). WAS 21-B-B-20-4-3-3: Iron toxicity tolerant (identified for release in Ghana)/Cold tolerant (identified for release in Senegal) (2). WAT 1046-B-43-2-2-2: Iron toxicity tolerant (released in Burkina Faso and identified for release in Guinea) and (3). SIM2 SUMADEL: Cold tolerant (identified for release in Mali).

The others are (4). WAS 200-B-B-1-1-1: Cold tolerant (identified for release in Mali); for rainfed lowland ecology, (5). IR75887-1-3-WAB1: Iron toxicity tolerant (released in Guinea and identified for release in Ghana) and for mangrove ecology (6). IR 63275-B-1-1-1-3-3-2: Salt tolerant (released in the Gambia).

The report further stated that the varieties were evaluated through the project Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA), which was “helping farmers who produce their crop under predominantly rainfed conditions, in which stresses such as drought, flood, cold, salinity and iron toxicity reduce yields.”

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and AfricaRice are implementing the STRASA project in 18 countries in Africa, in partnership with national programs with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dr. Gary Atlin, Senior Program Officer at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said at AfricaRice in Cotonou: “It’s wonderful to see that products of the first two phases of the STRASA project in Africa have now reached the stage to move into farmers’ fields.

“I am also impressed by the Africa Rice Breeding Task Force testing network, which it has set up in partnership with the national systems as it is a great conduit for moving improved materials into farmers’ fields,” Dr Atlin added.

Also, Dr. Baboucarr Manneh, AfricaRice Irrigated Rice Breeder and STRASA-Africa Coordinator explained that “Incorporating stress tolerance into popular high-yielding varieties has proven to be a very effective approach,” adding that STRASA project was using conventional plant breeding combined with molecular breeding to develop stress-tolerant materials.

More than 30 stress-tolerant rice varieties have already been released in nine African countries with support from the STRASA project, according to Dr Manneh. “However as they were developed before the launching of the ARICA brand, they were not nominated as ARICAs.”

Through the project, STRASA partners have produced more than 15,000 tonnes of improved seed between 2008 and 2012 and distributed to farmers. More than a 1,000 scientists, technicians and farmers have been trained in improved rice cultivation techniques, seed production, new breeding methods and seed enterprise management.

Rice seed producers such as Madame Peinda Cissé from Senegal and Mr. Abdoulaye Sawadogo from Burkina Faso hailed the development of the stress-tolerant ARICA varieties as “a revolution” and asked the project to also provide to farmers improved drought-tolerant rice varieties to help them cope with the impact of climate change.

“One of the key impact points for STRASA will be the quantity of seed produced and disseminated to farmers. As seed production continues to be a major bottleneck in Africa, the main thrust of our recent STRASA meeting was to help countries develop seed road maps,” said Dr. Manneh.

The project is linking up with various partners, including non-governmental organizations, such as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and BRAC as well as seed enterprises, such as FEPRODES and NAFASO, for dissemination of improved seed in Africa.

“We have many stress-tolerant rice varieties in the pipeline and we will strengthen our collaboration with development partners who have the capacity for rapid delivery of improved rice varieties to our farmers,” said Dr Manneh. “AfricaRice has developed an automated monitoring and evaluation (M&E) tool, which will be used to track diffusion of new technologies.

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