The Africa-wide Rice Breeding Task Force, convened by the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice), has recently nominated six varieties with improved tolerance to environmental stresses as ARICA, which stands for Advanced Rice Varieties for Africa.
“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,” said Dr Moussa Sié, AfricaRice Senior Breeder and Breeding Task Force Coordinator.
The ARICA varieties are selected through a rigorous multi-environment testing process including regional and national trials as well as participatory varietal selection involving farmers.
To be eligible for nomination as ARICA, 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.
Based on these criteria, the following six stress-tolerant ARICAs were nominated, one of which is particularly notable as it combines tolerance to two stresses – iron toxicity and cold.
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)
3. SIM2 SUMADEL: Cold tolerant (identified for release in Mali)
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)
For mangrove ecology
6. IR 63275-B-1-1-1-3-3-2: Salt tolerant (released in the Gambia)
The varieties were evaluated through the project Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA), which is 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 STRASA project is being implemented by the International Rice Research Institute(IRRI) and AfricaRice in partnership with national programs with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It covers 18 countries in Africa.
“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,” said Dr Gary Atlin, Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at the recent STRASA meeting held at AfricaRice in Cotonou, Benin to plan the third phase of the project.
“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.
The STRASA project is using conventional plant breeding combined with molecular breeding to develop stress-tolerant materials. “Incorporating stress tolerance into popular high-yielding varieties has proven to be a very effective approach,” explained DrBaboucarr Manneh, AfricaRice Irrigated Rice Breeder and STRASA-Africa Coordinator.
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 1000 scientists, technicians and farmers have been trained in improved rice cultivation techniques, seed production, new breeding methods and seed enterprise management.
Hailing the development of the stress-tolerant ARICA varieties as “a revolution”, rice seed producers such as Madame Peinda Cissé from Senegal and Mr Abdoulaye Sawadogo from Burkina Faso 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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