Research opens on high-yield rice for Africa

The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), based in Nairobi, has signed a license agreement with Japan Tobacco (JT) to develop new rice varieties that will increase rice yields, improve food security and raise the household income for up to 20 million smallholders and their families across SSA by reducing Africa’s dependence on imported rice.

The initiative, known as the Nitrogen Use Efficient, Water Use Efficient, and Salt Tolerant (NEWEST) Rice Project, seeks to address some of the major constraints that face rice production in SSA. The goal of the project is to develop and disseminate locally adapted rice varieties with enhanced nitrogen-use efficiency, water-use efficiency and salt tolerance. JT will offer the technology free of charge to the AATF as humanitarian aid.

“The slow growth in domestic rice production has been attributed to low yields being achieved by rice farmers in SSA,” said Dr Denis Kyetere, the Executive Director of AATF. “Several factors are responsible for the low rice production. However, nitrogen deficiency and drought have been cited as the leading constraints on upland rice production, while high salinity is increasingly becoming a major problem in many rice growing areas of Africa.”

The NEWEST project will apply the PureIntro® technology, which is an agrobacterium-mediated plant transformation technology that is recognised worldwide as a de facto standard for monocot transformation. The technology reduces development costs and time. PureIntro® has been licensed by JT to more than 50 private and public entities worldwide for numerous monocots, including maize, rice, wheat, barley, sorghum, sugarcane, switchgrass, miscanthus, forage and turf.

Rice is an important staple food and a commodity of strategic significance across much of Africa. Driven by changing food preferences in the urban and rural areas and compounded by high population growth rates and rapid urbanisation, rice consumption in SSA has been growing by 6 per cent a year, more than double the rate of population growth.

However, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the area under rice production in SSA has stagnated at about 8 million hectares, producing about 14.5 million tonnes per year against an annual consumption of 21 million tonnes.

These production and consumption trends imply a production deficit of about 6.5 million tonnes per year valued at US$ 1.7 billion that is imported annually. Insufficient rice production affects the wellbeing of over 20 million smallholders in SSA who depend on rice as their main food.

Moreover, many African soils have inherently poor fertility as a result of long periods of farming without replenishing nutrients and irrigation with salty water, making African rice yields significantly lower than in other rice producing regions.

Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter