The Rice Compact of the African Development Bank-funded project on Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) is paving the way for rice transformation in sub-Saharan Africa by promoting locally-adapted high-yielding hybrid rice varieties developed by the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice).
One such trailblazer is AR051H, which is the first hybrid rice variety released by the Senegalese Institute of Agricultural Research (ISRA) in Senegal under the name ISRIZ-9 in 2017. With high yield potential of 11-13 t/ha, long slender grains and good milling quality, ISRIZ-9, is aromatic, a trait that is highly appreciated by Senegalese consumers.
As a result of heterosis (hybrid vigor), hybrid rice typically shows a yield advantage of 15‒20% over the best conventionally bred varieties (inbreds) grown under the same conditions. It can provide an avenue for African rice farmers to boost rice yields and improve profitability. Moreover, hybrid rice seed production can be a lucrative business for seed companies and create employment opportunities for Africa’s youth.
As part of its approach to catalyze agribusiness and entrepreneurship development in the rice value chain with the active involvement of seed enterprises, the TAAT Rice Compact facilitated the large-scale demonstration of ISRIZ-9 seed production at a Field Day organized by AfricaRice and ISRA at the AfricaRice regional station in Saint Louis, Senegal, on 6 August 2019.
“Hybrid rice technology developed for Africa is a magnificent achievement as it can revolutionize our rice production.” declared Mr Cheikh Sidi Vall from SRIA, a major seed enterprise in Mauritania. “We are very keen to test and adopt this in our country.” Mr Vall was one of the 77 participants from five countries (Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire and Egypt), who attended the Field Day.
Thanking AfricaRice and the TAAT project, Mrs Peinda Cissé, Founder/Director of the FEPRODES women rice producers’ association in Saint Louis, remarked, “While research is continuing to develop productive rice varieties and hybrids like these, we farmers and seed producers must also adopt these new technologies, so that we can reduce rice imports and make our country self-sufficient in rice.”
According to Dr Sidi Sanyang, TAAT Rice Coordinator and AfricaRice Leader for Rice Sector Development Program, the main purpose of the Field Day was to initiate functional partnerships with seed enterprises in the production and commercialization of hybrid rice seeds and contribute to food and nutrition security in Africa.
“As part of the next step, seed enterprises are expected to support the large-scale hybrid demonstrations in farmers’ fields with technical backstopping from AfricaRice and ISRA,” Dr Sanyang explained. Seed of ISRIZ-9 and a few other promising hybrid lines developed by AfricaRice will be provided for these demonstrations.
The Field Day included an in-depth group discussion and question-answer session on the hybrid rice technology, which was coordinated by Dr Baboucarr Manneh, AfricaRice Irrigated Rice Breeder. “We have new hybrid lines, some of which are better than ISRIZ-9 and have yield potential of up to 14-15 t/ha,” Dr Manneh revealed during the discussions.
For a new technology such as hybrid rice in sub-Saharan Africa, capacity development is critical to its long-term sustainability. The TAAT Rice Compact and the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF) are partnering to initiate training in hybrid rice seed production.
“It is important for local companies to be trained in hybrid rice seed production as there are risks of rice diseases spreading through hybrid seed brought from outside Africa,” stated Dr Raafat El-Namaky, Hybrid Rice Breeder from Rice Research and Training Centre (RRTC), Egypt, who led the AfricaRice hybrid rice breeding program from 2009 to 2018.
Dr El-Namaky – who can claim the title of ‘Father of AfricaRice hybrid rice’ –spearheaded the development of almost 800 hybrids and their parental lines at AfricaRice. Some of these hybrids have been evaluated in several African countries. “AfricaRice has now more than 50 promising hybrids and at least 15 of these are ready for release and wide-scale adoption,” he told the participants of the Field Day.
In addition to participants from ISRA, AfricaRice and RRTC, the Field Day was attended by representatives from the following sectors, among others:
- Agribusiness, seed enterprises and associations from Senegal, Mauritania and Mali (CNT, CASL, SEDAB, FASO-KABA, FEPRODES, GIE AGRITECH, GIE DYNN, UNIS, SRIA, KORKA RICE);
- Donor community (USAID, Syngenta Foundation);
- Research, development and extension organizations and university from Senegal and Mauritania (DRDR, SODAGRI, SAED, UGB, CNRADA, SONADER);
- Rice farmers and seed producers from Senegal; and
- National and local media agencies
Thanking the African Development Bank for its strong support to the promotion of the hybrid rice technology in Africa through the TAAT project and all the participants for their active participation, Dr Karim Traoré, interim head of the AfricaRice regional station in Saint Louis, stated “Hybrid rice means agri-business. All the key partners will work together to develop win-win public-private partnership models so that our farmers and seed enterprises can fully benefit from this technology.”