The rice varieties were showcased during field days held recently at AfricaRice research station in M’bé, Côte d’Ivoire. The field days to showcase the performance of the hybrids were organized by the Rice Compact of the ‘Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT)’ Programme.
Funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB), TAAT’s main objective is to improve the business of agriculture across Africa by raising agricultural productivity, mitigating risks and promoting diversification and processing in 18 agricultural value chains within eight Priority Intervention Areas (PIA).
The programme increases agricultural productivity through the deployment of proven and high-performance agricultural technologies at scale along selected value chains which include rice.
The hybrids showcased in the field days included AR051H, an aromatic variety with high-yield potential (12-13 t/ha under favourable conditions and about 9 t/ha in farmers’ fields) and milling recovery of 80%.
Developed by AfricaRice, AR051H, was released by the Senegalese Institute of Agricultural Research (ISRA) as ISRIZ-9 in 2017.
"This is a wonderful effort which is very promising for Africa, as until now we had heard of hybrid rice success only in China and India,” said Abdoulaye Sawadogo, head of NAFASO seed company, after the field visit.
"We want our governments to support this initiative, which will improve our capacity to meet market demand and reduce rice imports".
Representatives of 11 seed companies, two milling companies, two farmers’ organizations, national seed system partners and research and development organizations participated in the field days.
These participants, drawn from Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal attended the field days to observe first-hand the performance of the AfricaRice-developed hybrids in the demonstration plots as well as hybrid seed production fields.
The participants from Nigeria, including two policy-makers, showed a keen interest to test the hybrids in Nigeria.
"This is a milestone for Africa in terms of raising rice productivity,” said Hon. Munir Babba Dan Agundi, a member of Nigeria’s lower house of parliament. “The hybrids should be made available to farmers in Nigeria as quickly as possible, along with training," he added.
The four hybrids showcased in the field days are early-maturing (110-120 days), which will allow farmers to grow two crops per year. They have 15-20% (1.0-1.5 t/ha) yield advantage compared with the best non-hybrid (inbred) variety grown under the same conditions, and good grain quality traits (medium and long grains with intermediate to high amylose content) and high milling recovery.
"Developed after nearly 10 years of intense research, these high-yielding hybrid rice varieties adapted to African conditions are ready to be rolled out," said Dr Sidi Sanyang, who coordinates the TAAT Rice Compact.
"The release of the consumer-preferred hybrid, ISRIZ-9, in Senegal, offers new opportunities for smallholder farmers to increase production and access national markets," he added.
"Capacity building of our partners in hybrid rice technology is a key component of our strategy, so that we can support our farmers and seed producers."
Dr Sanyang explained that an effective public-private partnerships (PPPs) strategy is critical for the successful deployment of these hybrid rice varieties in Africa.
"In partnership with national programs, we wish to actively engage with the private sector to expedite the adoption of promising hybrid rice varieties in Africa."
At the end of the field days, seed companies expressed their willingness to host demonstrations of these hybrids within countries for which PPP modalities will be worked out with support from the TAAT Policy Enabler Compact, led by African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).
Because of heterosis (hybrid vigor), hybrid rice can significantly out-yield inbred varieties. It can thus provide an avenue to African rice farmers to raise rice yields and profitability and play a central role in feeding Africa’s growing population. Hybrid rice seed production can be a profitable business and create employment opportunities for Africa’s youth.
Considering all these factors and in response to the strong demand from its member countries, AfricaRice established its own hybrid rice breeding program for Africa.
About 50 high-yielding hybrid rice lines/varieties have been developed by AfricaRice and evaluated in several African countries. The four hybrids showcased during the field days are part of this set.