In sub-Saharan Africa there is a huge need for rice varieties which can cope with challenging African rice growing situations. New varieties of rice are regularly required to meet market requirements and environmental constraints, but they must be based on African rice germplasm adapted to African pests and diseases. Also, three-quarter of the most severe droughts in the last ten years have been in Africa, the continent which already has the lowest level of crop production and drought adaptive capacity.
Generally, the rice demand in African exceeds production and large quantities of rice are imported at a huge cost.
Also, in terms of global food system, the 2008 food price crisis made the world more aware of constraints in global food production, with a threat of wide-spread starvation. Following this crisis, the growing improved rice varieties on a vast scale was promoted as a solution to global hunger. In sub-Saharan Africa there is a huge need for rice varieties that can cope with challenging African rice growing situations. New varieties of rice are regularly required to meet market requirements and environmental constraints, but they must be based on African rice breeding lines adapted to African pests and diseases. Three-quarter of the most severe droughts in the last ten years have been in Africa, the continent which already has the lowest level of crop production and drought adaptive capacity.
Also, in terms of global food system, the food price crisis in 2008 made the world more aware of constraints in global food production, with a threat of wide-spread starvation. Following this crisis, the growing improved rice varieties on a vast scale was promoted as a solution to global hunger. These ‘improved’ varieties are largely hybrid rice varieties produced either by conventional breeding methods or by molecular breeding.
What is Chinese Green Super Rice (GSR
The term Green Super Rice (GSR) refers to a set of newly developed ‘super’ hybrid rice varieties bred in China and Africa to cope with many different and demanding growing conditions. GSR hybrid varieties are bred to produce high and stable yields and are more tolerant to pests, diseases, drought and other stresses. These rice varieties are intended to be highly suitable for small scale farmers in both Africa and Asia, with a hope to benefit at least 20 million smallholder rice farmers and boost rice productivity by 20 % in the target regions. Since 2008, the GSR project has bred 78 GSR varieties for 18 African and Asian countries.
The GSR hybrid rice breeding approach involved a complex molecular plant breeding to search through thousands of rice acquisitions using molecular methods and identifying genes which convey new properties. The molecular breeding method is also much faster than convention plant breeding. To create the set of GSR rice varieties, the genetic variation of thousands of Asian cultivated rice genomes from the 3000 Rice Genomes Project genomic data search was analysed for new traits.
Other successful African rice breeding projects
African rice, Oryza glaberrima, has been cultivated for 3500 years and is well adapted to the African environment. It is resistant to drought, the insect pest African rice gall midge (Orseolia oryzivora), Rice yellow mottle virus and blast disease. However, African rice has relatively low yields because it tends to fall over when grain heads are full and rice grains are lost. In general, the cultivation of African rice has been abandoned by African farmers in recent times for the cultivation of high-yield Asian varieties of Oryza sativa. Asian varieties are poorly adapted to African conditions as their cultivation requires abundant water. Asian rice also cannot compete with African weeds due to their semi-dwarf phenotypes.
New Rice for Africa (NERICA) refers to a set of inter-specific rice hybrids developed by AfricaRice in 2008 to improve the yield of African rice and are based on Oryza glaberrima cultivars. AfricaRice is a leading pan-African rice research organization (NGO) committed to improving livelihoods in Africa through strong science and effective partnerships, and was established in 1971, all as stated on their website. AfricaRice is also a CGIAR Research Centre, meaning is it part of a global research partnership for a ‘food-secure future’.
These new African rice varieties, which are suited to drylands, were distributed and sown on more than 200 000 hectares in several African countries, notably Guinea, Nigeria, Mali, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, and Uganda, according to the AfricaRice. Also, in 2019, AfricaRice, along with African national partners, launched a project called ‘Sustainable and Diversified Rice-based Farming Systems’ in Africa, under the ‘Putting Research into Use for Nutrition, Sustainable Agriculture and Resilience (PRUNSAR)’ program co-funded by the European Union (EU) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
Although these projects represented a major advance, they are still projected to fall short of meeting the growing demand for rice as an Africa food staple. With these new cultivars, new GSR varieties and with more efficient irrigating methods, there is now a greater possibility of growing rice in drier conditions than traditionally considered suitable. However, expectations should not be ‘over-hyped’ as there are many failures along the way. Also, hybrid crop varieties are controversial in that farmers must buy new seed each year to get the same results, rather than keep back their own seed. In many cases, poor farmers cannot afford this seed and may get into debt if coerced into purchasing this type of superior seed.