Project Develops First Ever Rice Hybrids for Farmers in Africa

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              Rice farm

By Abdallah el-Kurebe

Rice farmers in Africa are set to dramatically increase their productivity with the new hybrid varieties that are capable of yielding up to 7 tonnes per hectare, courtesy of a public private partnership, Breeding by Design Project.

According to a release issued by the head of Communications and Partnerships unit of the project, Nancy Muchri, the Hybrid Rice: Breeding by Design Project, which developed the first indigenous hybrid rice varieties in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA). using the 2-line rice hybrid technology have the potential to produce 7 tonnes per hectare.

It further stated that among countries that would benefit from the hybrid as early as next year, is Kenya considering that two hybrids are already undergoing national performance trials. This will include farmers in Tanzania who are likely to get access to the hybrids in 2018.

The statement quoted the Project Manager, Dr. Kayode Sanni as disclosing that the project was further “evaluating the performance of 127 rice hybrids for advancement to national performance trials,” adding that “hybrid rice seeds currently being planted in Africa are either imported from Asia or America. Egypt, is the only country in Africa that has developed its own rice hybrids. With this breakthrough, Africa will realise its own high yielding hybrid seeds, consequently boosting production and moving closer to self-sufficiency in rice production.”

This is indeed good news to farmers, seed companies and rice consumers in Sub Saharan Africa, because “while global production of rice has risen steadily from 132 million tonnes in 1960 to 491.5 million tonnes in 2015, Africa has not contributed much to the increase, producing only 3 per cent, with Asia accounting for 90 per cent of the global production,” it stressed.

Statistics have it that rice demand on the continent exceeds production and Africa has been forced to rely heavily on importing large quantities of rice to meet demand at a very huge cost. “In 2014, for instance, Africa imported 13 million tonnes costing over US $5billion,” the statement disclosed.

Dr. Sani warns that with demand increasing at between 6-12 percent over the last 10 years, the cost was likely to increase unless there was drastic increase in local production.

“SSA produces 14.8 million of milled rice per year, but consumes nearly double that amount at 26.4 million tonnes of milled rice per year. Except for a few countries that have attained self-sufficiency in rice production, as many as 21 of the 39 rice-producing countries in Africa import between 50 and 99 per cent of their rice requirements.

“Kenya is one of the countries that have had to heavily rely on imports. The country’s annual demand of milled rice is 550,000 tonnes. With an annual production of 102,000 tonnes, the imported 420,000 tonnes in 2015 were not enough to cater for demand, leaving the country with a deficit of 15,000 tonnes. Uganda on her part imported 53.8 percent of her rice requirements of 223,000 tonnes. Uganda produces 143,000 tonnes of milled rice per year,” it further stated.

With an annual production of 1,700,000 tonnes and an annual consumption of 1,770,000 tonnes, Tanzania is the only country in East Africa that appears to be heading towards self-sufficiency in rice with annual imports accounting for only 5.6 percent.

Hybrid rice technology revolutionized rice production in Asia dramatically increasing productivity from an average of 1.89 tonnes per hectare in 1949 to 6.71 in 2012, and it will do the same for Africa, states Dr. Denis Kyetere, Executive Director African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), that coordinates the Hybrid Rice project. Now that we have also acquired the 2-line hybrid rice technology, Africa should be self-sufficient in rice production and even compete globally for exports, and not imports, added Dr Kyetere.

Africa’s inability to reach self-sufficiency in rice is the result of a combination of several factors in the rice industry. The continent suffers low rice productivity averaging 2.2 t/ha against the global average of 3.4 t/ha. This is largely caused by lack of high performing varieties, poor seed systems making it difficult for farmers to access certified and high quality seeds, and vagaries of weather brought about by climate change. Farmers are further discouraged from investing in rice due to high production costs that make their products more costly and hence less competitive in the market.

Unlike maize, there is insufficient private sector investment in rice production in Africa, an issue Dr Sanni attributes to lack of hybrid rice technologies. Historically, hybrid crop model has been used to leverage private sector involvement in agriculture. Besides offering significant yield gains to farmers, hybrid technologies also offer viable agri-businesses to seed companies through sustained seed sales. Investment in rice production by seed companies can only be encouraged by using hybrid rice technology. The huge African rice deficits are indeed a great business opportunity for seed companies,” states Sanni

For hybrid rice technology to take root in Africa, both the public and the private sectors will need to appreciate the big business opportunities and increase their investment in rice production. The increased investments could be channeled to addressing the challenges facing adoption of hybrid rice technology such as unavailability of parental lines, lack of capacity on hybrid rice technology, and inadequate awareness on hybrid rice benefits to farmers.

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