Rice: Korean-African breeding partnership

The Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) and Republic of Korea are producing Tongil-type, stress-tolerant rice varieties to increase production across Africa. The new cultivars are expected to increase the area and duration over which rice can be grown to meet the pressing needs of farmers and consumers.

Improved rice varieties are key to helping smallholder farmers in Africa raise their productivity © Busani Bafana

High yielding and stress-tolerant rice varieties, including Korean Tongil-types, are being bred by AfricaRice researchers in an initiative which will benefit more than 35 million smallholder farmers across 20 African countries. In partnership with the Rural Development Administration of the Republic of Korea, under the Korea-Africa Food and Agriculture Cooperation Initiative, the Center will also support seed multiplication and dissemination of the newly released cultivars. By employing an innovative breeding technique, the partnership is expected to develop and distribute new rice varieties across Africa faster than ever before.

Rice is the second most important source of calories in Africa after maize, but farmers are not producing enough to meet growing demand. In Nigeria alone, 17 million t of rice has been imported from South Asia and the US over the past 5 years. Duties for imported rice are at 60% and the price of a bag of rice doubled in 2016. After experiencing rice shortages and food insecurity during the grain market crisis in 2008, rice farming has been a priority in Nigeria. 

Korean Tongil-type varieties can yield up to 8 t per ha of milled rice, quadruple the average yield produced by African farmers. Some varieties also exhibit a tolerance to low temperatures which will enable rice area expansion in high elevation areas in Eastern and Southern Africa such as Ethiopia, Madagascar and Rwanda. “The new varieties are expected to be high yielding, with high grain quality, and will help improve rice production by expanding the area and duration over which rice can be grown,” says Baboucarr Manneh, an irrigation rice breeder at the AfricaRice regional center in Senegal.

To speed up development and distribution of rice varieties in Africa, the rice researchers will use an innovative technique, known as anther culture, which reduces development of a new breed to 1 year. Development of a fixed breeding line usually takes about 3 years. “When developing anthers, the pollen bearing organs of flowering plants are cut from unopened flower buds and developed in the laboratory into young plants using specialised techniques,” explains Manneh. “Anther culture-derived plants do not need to be propagated through several generations to fix them which shortens the time needed to develop new rice varieties.”

Busani Bafana

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.