Tuesday, May 31, 2016

AfricaRice conducts group training in data analysis in Sierra Leone as part of WAAPP

Scientists at the Rokupr Agricultural Research Center (RARC), Sierra Leone, one of the seven research centers within the Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute (SLARI) were trained by AfricaRice scientists in the concepts and principles of experimental design and data analysis, 23 to 27 May 2016.

The training session, which was inaugurated by  Dr Joseph Kargbo, SLARI Director General, was conducted by AfricaRice Biometrician Dr Ibnou Dieng, and AfricaRice Research Assistant Mr Amakoe Alognon, with support from AfricaRice scientists, who are working at RARC under the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme, Sierra Leone (WAAPP – 1C SL): Rice Research Coordinator Dr Olupomi Ajayi and Agricultural Economist Dr Ali Touré. Funding was provided by the World Bank and Government of Japan under the WAAPP – 1C SL. 

Trainees included 27 RARC scientists, two Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) officers from SLARI and the WAAPP Project Coordinating Unit, SLARI statistician, WAAPP Grant Manager, and one staff member of the Sierra Leone Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security.

The training objectives were to: (i) provide good practices for managing data from rice experiments; (ii) train practitioners in the use of the software ‘Analysis with R is made Simple’ (ARiS) to generate experimental designs and to analyze and present their data in formats that would ensure their wide dissemination, especially through peer-reviewed publications; and (iii) train rice researchers in basic economic analysis of rice experiments.

After the course, participants can identify appropriate experimental designs to be adopted and can use the ARiS software to randomize each of these designs. Participants will also be able to adopt good principles of data management to improve the quality and quantity of their research publications, to conduct statistical analyses (ANOVA, regression, correlation, etc.), to assess whether or not the results statistically support the original research question, and to communicate the interpretation of statistical results.

Evaluation by participants at the end of the training indicated that it met their expectations and the training’s goal and objectives. A number of trainees stated that although they had no theoretical knowledge of statistics and had depended on their colleagues for data analysis prior to the training, what they learned during the sessions has given them the confidence to plan, design and conduct trials and surveys, as well as analyze and interpret their own data. 

The trainees were excited about the new software ARiS, developed by Dr Ibnou Dieng at AfricaRice, and were determined to use it. Participants appreciated the resource persons and the sponsors. They plan to work in homogeneous groups to put into practice the knowledge obtained. During the training,  Dr Ibnou Dieng also held meetings with individual RARC scientists to discuss and address their individual data analysis needs.

Related links : 

His Excellency Prof. Monty Jones, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security of Sierra Leone, speaking during his visit to AfricaRice Headquarters in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, on 8 April 2016.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Going beyond boiled rice

Traditionally, rice is eaten around the world as a basic starchy (carbohydrate) staple, perhaps with the major exception of rice noodles in eastern Asia. However, there are good reasons for doing more with rice than simply boiling it.

The first of these is to add value to lower grades of rice. Local rice has historically been unpopular in many parts of Africa because of its quality — it is often perceived as heterogeneous, impure and unclean compared with clean, white, uniform imported rice, and consequently sold at lower prices on local markets.

One particular issue has been the quality of milling, which often leaves local rice as a mixture of sizes of broken grains. There are a few cultures that actually prefer broken grains — notably Senegal (and even here, it is broken rice of uniform granulation that is preferred) — but, for the most part, broken rice is considered inferior to unbroken rice and therefore of lower value.

With many countries having increased their rice production over a number of years, some markets have experienced a glut of local ‘inferior’ rice, which has not met with universal acceptance. Rather than let this rice go to waste, AfricaRice has in the past developed (or sought out) recipes to make use of it, thereby adding value to it.

The simplest route was that followed historically by those promoting other starchy staples such as potato: grind it up to make flour. Rice flour (cheaper in many parts of the tropics than imported wheat flour) can then be used as a substitute for wheat flour in typical flour-based foods, such as bread and cakes.

Rice flour is a particularly good substitute for wheat flour for those who are gluten-intolerant. It is also used as a thickening agent in recipes that are refrigerated or frozen, since it inhibits liquid separation.

“Over the past year or two, we have decided that this is not enough!” declares AfricaRice grain-quality specialist John Manful. “We are now looking at adding nutritional value to rice.” This is being done via several routes with a range of partners.

 AfricaRice has been working with Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement (CIRAD) to ‘re-engineer’ a rice-based steamed product, ablo, using lower-grade rice grains. The re-engineering comprises standardizing processing operations, recommending best practices and identifying local varieties best suited for ablo production.   

A raw white rice grain is primarily carbohydrate (about 80%), water (c.12%) and protein (c.7%); it is not rich in any macro- or micronutrients or vitamins. As such it does not have a particularly balanced nutritional value.

“One approach is to incorporate more nutritious food sources into rice flour,” says Manful, “such as grain legumes for protein and fruits for minerals and vitamins. In particular, we have made flour rich in minerals and vitamins from dried safou [a forest fruit of West and Central Africa popular in Cameroon], which we have then mixed with rice flour.”

The composite flour has been used to make biscuits (cookies) and pastries in Cameroon and Nigeria, where the field-tested products are ready for commercialization.

“Another approach is to fortify rice directly with a range of minerals and vitamins,” says Manful. AfricaRice’s partners in this venture are Louisiana State University (USA) and the WrightGroup (Crowley, LA, USA). The Wright Group has a history of rice fortification dating back to 1894.

The technique that is being trialed for Africa is a ‘rinse-resistant technology’: in excess of 80% of the fortification coating remains on the rice grains during washing and cooking — this resistance has been and continues to be verified by Louisiana State University.

With the technology available, the big question was whether the fortified rice would be acceptable to consumers. “We blended fortified rice with ‘regular’ rice, and then made biscuits, boiled rice and porridge [a rice version of oatmeal], which we presented to taste panels in Benin and Ghana,” Manful explains.

Could they detect the fortification? Would there be a negative reaction to it? “At very high levels of fortification, some of the taste-testers could tell that the fortified rice was different from ‘regular’ rice,” says Manful. “Remarkably, however, they actually preferred the taste of the fortified rice!” Thus, a potentially major hurdle was overcome: there was no adverse reaction from the consumers to this fortification of rice.

“The beauty of this technique is that, if we have a rice-eating population that has a diet deficient in some mineral or vitamin, or combination of those, then we can make a specific fortification formula with the deficient nutritional elements and coat their rice with it,” says Manful. This will ensure that populations get exactly what they need — no more, no less. 

“There is an additional benefit to this kind of nutritional fortification,” says Manful. “It is an additive; we are not manipulating the genetics of the rice itself.” For whatever reason, there is still strong opposition in many parts of the world to genetically modified (GM) food, which limits the potential scope of advancements such as ‘Golden Rice’ (rice genetically fortified with vitamin A). “The anti-GM lobby has no argument about the kind of fortification we are testing,” says Manful. 

Moreover, the fortification through coating can be applied to any rice. So a target community can continue to eat its preferred varieties, rather than having to adopt new varieties to meet its nutritional requirements. 

AfricaRice is now working with the Wright Group and Louisiana State University to see how the technology can be adopted by private-sector small and medium-sized enterprises in Africa to make it commercial.

The fortification of rice-based products is particularly targeted at children and pregnant women, who are perhaps the most nutritionally sensitive elements of any society. Louisiana State University is leading the validation of the positive effects of consumption of fortified rice on malnourished children.

AfricaRice is also targeting digestive problems, particularly type 2 diabetes and gluten-related disorders. Many readers may not be aware that these two disorders are increasing within the populations of developing countries, just as they are in developed countries. 

AfricaRice is working with the University of Milan to develop rice pastas. Who better to work with on pasta than an Italian university? “We are testing 100% rice pasta,” explains Manful, “which has advantages over both wheat pasta and boiled rice.”

Rice is gluten-free, which means that it is a good starchy staple for those with gluten-related disorders. It has also been shown that rice pasta is more slowly digested than boiled rice, which aids in the management of type 2 diabetes. “We have developed many rice-pasta products,” says Manful, “for which we are currently conducting consumer tests.”

Parboiling (boiling or steaming paddy prior to milling) is becoming increasingly popular as a means of improving the quality and milling recovery of local rice in several parts of Africa. A secondary effect of parboiling is that it slows the digestion rate of rice.

Having introduced improved parboiling techniques to several countries in the region (most recently through the rice sector development hubs), AfricaRice is now working with McGill University (Canada), the University of Milan and partners from national agricultural research systems in Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria to improve the parboiling process to optimize the digestive rate of rice for those with type 2 diabetes.

“All of this work is being carried out under the broader framework of the Africa-wide Rice Processing and Value Addition Task Force,” says Manful, “and validated technologies from the research are shared with all partners within the task force.” 

Related links : 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

AfricaRice training center for rice value chain actors inaugurated

A training center set up by AfricaRice to provide vocational training to rice value chain actors was inaugurated today in Saint Louis, Senegal, by His Excellency Dr Papa Abdoulaye Seck, Senegal Minister of Agriculture and Rural Equipment.

The training center has been set up with strong support from the Government of Senegal, the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) and the African Development Bank.

As an association of member states and an international CGIAR Center, AfricaRice seeks to respond to the priorities of its member countries on issues relating to the development of the rice sector. One of the most pressing challenges for the African countries is youth unemployment, which is among the main obstacles to development in the region.

The youth population in Africa is exploding.  With almost 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, the continent has the world’s youngest population. And this figure is expected to double by 2045. Many rural young men and women are migrating to cities or emigrating from Africa to escape poverty.

African countries and the international community are increasingly realizing that investing in the rural youth is vital to reduce poverty, hunger and rural exodus.

Agriculture is an area of great opportunity for Africa's youth. The rice sector alone could employ many of the 17 million young people, who are entering the job market in sub-Saharan Africa each year. AfricaRice believes that rice sector development can offer several pathways to steady employment and entrepreneurship along the value chain.

But to achieve this, it is imperative to enhance performance in production, processing and marketing, and overcome the severe lack of capacity across the rice value chain in Africa.

The Center considers training as one of its main pillars. Its capacity building activities have traditionally focused on the professional development of national scientists and technicians involved in rice improvement. AfricaRice has also trained farmers, seed producers and extension workers.

In addition to these efforts, AfricaRice is adopting a new strategy to professionalize the full range of actors in the rice value chain and. This will help Africa to produce enough quality rice for its population and even export to other regions in due course.

The new training center set up by AfricaRice aims to strengthen the technical capacity of the rice value chain actors in Africa. In addition to thematic courses on rice production, specialized modules that promote entrepreneurship and agribusiness will be offered to participants to help them develop profitable and competitive rice enterprises.

The training modules will focus on a range of professions, ranging from technical advisory and extension service to mechanical service for agricultural equipment, rice processing and marketing, seed production and quality control and management of rice-related enterprises.

The training center is strategically located in Saint Louis, Senegal, 15 km from the old town, which has a unique historical charm and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Saint Louis is also close to the Senegal River Valley, which is Senegal’s main rice belt.

The center will greatly benefit from its proximity to the AfricaRice Sahel Regional Station, which has excellent laboratories and experimental fields. The Station has a team of international rice experts, who will serve as resource persons in the training courses. Technologies and innovation developed by AfricaRice can be easily disseminated through the training center.

It will draw on experts from partner organizations when necessary. It will also benefit from the presence of the Senegal Institute of Agricultural Research (ISRA), the University of Gaston Berger and Senegal’s national organization for the development of delta (SAED), which are based in Saint Louis.

The land for the training center of about 1 hectare was a generous gift from the Government of Senegal. The training facility has a fully equipped conference hall, which can accommodate up to 100 people, 2 training halls with a capacity of 25 students each, a computer hall, a hall for practical work, a cafeteria and a library. It has 20 rooms with 2 beds each and 6 independent rooms for trainers, two recreation areas and a multifunctional playground.

The center will be a valuable tool for the region to modernize the rice sector and transform the lives of the rural communities. It is open to all the research and development partners of AfricaRice on a charge basis.

During the inauguration ceremony, AfricaRice Board Chair Prof. Eric Tollens and Director General Dr Harold Roy-Macauley conveyed their deep appreciation to the Senegal government and the other donors and partners for their strong support, reassuring them that the best use will be made of the training center to support the member countries in strengthening the capacity of rice value chain actors, particularly the youth.

The inauguration ceremony was attended by local authorities, representatives of donors and R&D partners and AfricaRice staff.

Related links:

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Climate-proofing East Africa’s rice sector

For rice as for other crops, the distribution and behavior of diseases is expected to change under the influence of climate change. In fact, it is already doing so. In rice-disease hot spots in Tanzania, 92% of rice farmers with 15–30 years of experience have observed increased temperatures and changing rainfall patterns in terms of timing and amounts — effects they associate with climate change and with changes in both the incidence and the severity of diseases.

Some 91% of farmers are familiar with the symptoms of rice diseases, but few, if any, regularly practise any form of disease control. It has long been known that the most effective way to help farmers overcome diseases is to provide them with rice cultivars that are resistant to those diseases. In East Africa, the commonest rice diseases are bacterial blight, blast (a fungal disease) and Rice yellow mottle virus.

In response to this challenge, Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) funded a 3-year project, ‘Mitigating the impact of climate change on rice disease resistance in East Africa’ (MICCORDEA) carried out by the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice). The project focused on bacterial blight and blast in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

“Perhaps the most important outcome of the project is that we have a number of national scientists qualified at master’s and doctoral levels in the three countries,” says Drissa Silué, AfricaRice plant pathologist. “This means that there are now scientists in place in the national programs who can carry out research on rice diseases in general and on these two diseases in particular.”

An immediate upshot of this has been the mapping of the distribution and severity of bacterial blight and blast across the three countries. “This is the first time that we have had detailed maps of the distribution of these diseases in East Africa, which will help target breeding efforts,” says Silué. This work has also established baseline data for measuring changes in disease patterns as climate change takes hold over the coming decades.

The causal organisms of both diseases are highly variable. The variability of blast pathogens is demonstrated by the gene-for-gene theory of genetic resistance — specific resistance genes in rice prevent infection by specific virulence genes of the pathogen. Over 70 major resistance genes have been documented for blast in rice worldwide. Meanwhile, over 30 resistance genes for bacterial blight are known, some of them in native African rice species such as Oryza barthii, O. glaberima and O. longistaminata.

In the MICCORDEA project, rice germplasm known to be carrying resistance genes was screened at disease hot spots in each of the three countries. This is a quick and cheap way of identifying material resistant to local strains of the pathogens and, in the case of blast, the pathotypes prevalent in each hot spot.

Bacterial blight

From the work conducted by Rwanda Agricultural Research Institute (ISAR), Rwanda seems to have the most complex distribution of variation in the two diseases, with both registering considerable diversity across sites. For bacterial blight, two of the sites registered three pathotypes/resistance groups each, but the third site registered uniform moderate resistance across rice lines.

No candidate resistant varieties for use in a bacterial blight-resistance breeding program emerged from this work. However, in a separate experiment conducted by the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), five cultivars proved resistant to all bacterial blight isolates.

In Tanzania, researchers at the Agricultural Research Institute in Uyole found two lines resistant to bacterial blight that show promise for inclusion in the country’s bacterial blight-resistance breeding program. Research testing rice genotypes against five strains from bacterial blight hot spots across the country revealed large variations across seasons and sites, suggesting the worrying prospect of genetic shifts in pathogen populations.

However, six genotypes were resistant to four of the site-specific strains of the disease. In Uganda, the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) and National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) found no lines completely resistant to bacterial blight, and just two lines showing moderate resistance. However, in a test of five cultivars against the three most aggressive isolates, AfricaRice’s WITA 9 and NERICA 4 performed best.

In parallel with the fieldwork in East Africa, Georg- August University of Göttingen, Germany, conducted diversity, virulence and toxin production studies on bacterial blight. A major result from the diversity studies was the diagnosis of bacterial blight isolate Ug12 from Uganda.

Meanwhile, the virulence studies identified two genes that conferred broad resistance to bacterial blight — one providing strong resistance and the other moderate resistance. The research also confirmed that African strains of the blight bacterium are distinct from those found in Asia. The toxin production study led the research team to speculate that a low-molecular-weight toxin may be present but not playing a major role in bacterial blight virulence.  


The results of ISAR’s blast screening were more promising than those of its bacterial blight screening, with at least two and up to seven genotypes (each with between one and four resistance genes) showing promise for disease control at each of the three hotspot sites. An inoculation test using the five most virulent isolates of blast against recently released cultivars showed that Rumbuka has broad resistance to all five isolates, while Mpembuke is resistant to two of them. This information should help the extension service target areas for promotion of these new cultivars. 

The upland site of Kyela in southern Tanzania has a particularly diverse and aggressive blast population, which destroyed up to 75% of the rice lines tested, the disease being at its worst early in the rainy season. However, even here, the screening revealed 10 resistant lines (9 with monogenic resistance, 1 with a four-gene combination). These 10 lines have been recommended for use in a breeding program to ‘pyramid’ (i.e. combine) the resistance genes in popular local varieties that are susceptible to the disease.

Five rice lines showed stable resistance to blast across four hotspot sites in Uganda (4 monogenic, 1 with a combination of two genes). Moreover, five accessions (i.e. varieties or landraces originally collected in the field rather than from breeders) also performed well in these hot spots. These accessions include the well-known varieties IR24 and AfricaRice’s own NERICA 1. All these materials were recommended for inclusion in the effort to pyramid resistance genes.

In Germany, institutions at three universities — the Institute of Plant Pathology and Plant Protection, the Karlovsky lab and the Section for Tropical and Subtropical Agriculture and Forestry (SeTSAF) at the Georg-August University of Göttingen; the Institute of Plant Diseases and Plant Protection at Leibniz University, Hannover; and the University of Applied Sciences of Erfurt — investigated the population structure, pathogenicity and mating type of blast pathogens in preparation for further studies on the impact of climate change on disease incidence and severity.

Some 88 blast isolates were used to determine variation in virulence among isolates. The research into mating type revealed the possibility of recombination via sexual reproduction of the blast fungus in East Africa, though this has never been proved to occur in the field.

Resistance analysis in Germany identified two genes with potential for use in East Africa, while a study of cultivar reaction to blast strains demonstrated that NERICA 4 has broad-spectrum resistance to East African strains, though the genetic basis for this is as yet unknown. This makes NERICA 4 potentially doubly interesting, given the resistance to bacterial blight demonstrated in Rwanda.

How will climate change affect disease patterns?

A central aim of the project was to work toward mitigation of the impact of rice diseases as East Africa’s climate changes. The degree studies and short-course training provided for national scientists are a major component of this, as they will give rise to continuing activities over the coming years, enabling scientists to respond to farmers’ changing needs. However, the project also included a component of research to find out how the two diseases are likely to affect the East African rice crop as temperature increases and rainfall becomes more erratic.

The crop model RICEPEST, which determines rice losses to diseases under current climatic conditions, was an obvious place to start. To develop future scenarios, the climate model EPIRICE was used to generate data on projected climate to feed into RICEPEST. This was the first time these two models had been combined. For blast, the news for farmers is good: although it can be locally virulent, the disease currently has a relatively minor impact on rice yields in the region as a whole, and this is predicted not to change in the foreseeable future.

The combined model predicted a less than 2.5% probability of blast epidemic outbreak in Tanzania, with low yield losses (no more than 0.017 t/ha) due to blast up to 2050 (i.e. 35 years hence). However, the news is not so good regarding bacterial blight: this disease is predicted to reduce yields by between 0.47 and 0.67 t/ha by 2050. The implication is that, for East Africa, breeding efforts should focus far more on resistance to bacterial blight than to blast.

Georg-AugustUniversity tested six blast-resistance genes in two genetic backgrounds at two temperatures against a Tanzanian strain of blast. The research found that, in general, both temperature and genetic background tend to affect resistance. However, the good news is that two of the resistance genes were not affected by either temperature or genetic background, providing strong resistance in all cases. Parallel research showed that rice reactions to blast and temperature are both genetic.

A major stress under predicted future climate scenarios will be drought. If rainfall becomes more erratic, rainfed rice in particular is likely to suffer yield losses as it undergoes increasingly long and severe dry spells during the growing season. Drought resistance in rice is complex: there is no major drought-resistance gene, but rather a number of small-effect genes whose impact is cumulative, so that the more of these genes a plant has the more resistant it is. These genes are collectively known as ‘quantitative trait loci’ (QTLs). 

Project research demonstrated that rice plants with a selection of drought-resistant QTLs were more susceptible to bacterial blight than those without them. Moreover, rice lines with both the drought QTLs and a bacterial blight resistance gene suffered more severely from the disease under drought conditions than under ‘normal’ conditions.

This apparent breakdown in resistance would seem to be a major problem, until one looks at parallel research which showed that the effects depend very much on the gene-for-gene alignment of rice resistance with pathogen virulence. With the right bacterial blight-resistance gene combined with drought-resistance QTLs, rice plants displayed increased resistance to the disease under drought. 

The other major component of climate change is temperature. Over the coming decades, East African rice systems are likely to experience gradually increasing temperatures, especially night-time temperatures during the growing season. Two bacterial blight-resistance genes were studied: higher temperatures enhanced the resistance effects of one while reducing the effects of the other!

Clearly, climate-proofing rice against bacterial blight is going to be a complicated business. Another avenue is to tap the resistance genes of O. glaberrima, ensuring these enter the widely grown sativa cultivars. To this end, 18 O. glaberrima accessions were screened, including 9 that had demonstrated resistance to many Philippine strains of bacterial blight.

These accessions were screened against 14 strains of the blight bacterium at two temperatures. Four of the accessions showed broad-spectrum resistance at high temperature. One of these carries a known resistance gene, but the others are still being tested to see whether they carry known resistance genes or novel ones.

Project achievements

“I believe that the project has done what we wanted it to. It has made a significant contribution to preparing the rice production sector for future climate change,” says Silué. “We have a gene for bacterial blight resistance that currently stands up to most of the bacterial blight in East Africa. We also have a pair of genes for blast that not only show durable resistance today, but also seem to be effective at higher temperatures. This means we have the basic tools for climate-proofing existing and new varieties for East Africa.

“The other element of climate-proofing is having the skills on the ground to continue to study the diseases as they evolve over the coming years. This is what the master’s and doctoral training was all about.” All in all, then, a successful project, though there is no room for complacency. Much hard work both in the lab and in farmers’ fields remains to be done in future years to enable East Africa’s rice sector to cope effectively with the disease challenges associated with climate change.