New rice variety for African conditions

Scientists have developed a new rice variety that combines the ruggedness of local African rice species with the high productivity traits of Asian rice.
The NERICA (New rice for Africa) variety was developed by scientists on behalf of the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA) and tested by farmers in Guinea. It is set to vastly i Scientists have developed a new rice variety that combines the ruggedness of local African rice species with the high productivity traits of Asian rice.
The NERICA (New rice for Africa) variety was developed by scientists on behalf of the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA) and tested by farmers in Guinea. It is set to vastly improve the producation capacities of the 20 million rice farmers in West Africa who are bound to an environmentally degrading slash-and-burn farming system.
Asian rice species which entered Africa 450 years ago cannot compete with the weeds, so after a crop or two more land has to be cleared. Planting the traditional African rice species is not worthwhile for farmers as it simply does not produce enough rice.
Demand for rice is growing faster in West Africa than elsewhere in the world. In the last three decades, rice imports have increased eight-fold to over 3 million ton per year.
The biotechnology-based research programme to combine the best traits of the Asian and African rices was initiated in 1991. Vital to the effort were gene banks that contain seeds of 1,500 African rice varieties which had faced extinction as farmers abandoned them for higher yielding Asian varieties.
Genetic differences in the two species made breeding difficult but also gave the new rice high levels of heterosis, the phenomenon in which the progeny of two genetically different parents grows faster, yields more, or resists stresses better than either parent.
NERICA rice smothers grain-robbing weeds like the African varieties, resists droughts and pests, and is able to thrive in poor soils. The trait of higher productivity conferred by Asian varieties is also present, meaning that with few additional inputs the farmers using the new variety rice can double production and raise incomes.
The panicles of this rice variety can hold 400 grains compared to the 75-100 grains of it’s African parents. Further improvements in the plant structure such as longer panicles with forked branches, strong stems and panicles that hold grain tightly and prevent shattering, will allow the new varieties to out-yield others and produce good harvests with modest fertilisation. They mature 30-50 days earlier than traditional varieties allowing farmers to grow extra crops of vegetables or legumes. They are taller, thus making harvesting easier and they grow better on the fertile, acid soils that comprise 70% of the upland rice area in West-Africa. In addition, there is 2% more protein in these new varieties than either their African or Asian parents.
WARDA: Contact Savitri Mohapatra, Public-Awareness Officer: s.mohapatra@cgiar.org