Thursday, April 7, 2016

“Super rice” to reach more poor farmers in Asia and Africa

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—Hardy “super rice” varieties that can thrive even with less water, fertilizer, and pesticides will soon reach more farmers living in harsh locations in Asia and Africa under the third phase of the Green Super Rice (GSR) project.

The GSR project, which formally launched its third phase at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) headquarters on 30 March to 1 April 2016, is focusing on bringing GSR varieties to farmers in Asia and Africa who are not only struggling with unproductive lands but are also exposed to the impact of climate change.

In its previous phases, the project has released 55 rice varieties that can produce high and stable yields even with less water, fertilizers, and pesticides. Thirteen of these were bred at IRRI—11 were released in the Philippines and two in Pakistan. These varieties can also cope better with droughts, floods, salinity, and other conditions associated with erratic weather because of global warming.

“Targeting new traits such as higher yield potential, more efficient use of fertilizer, and the ability to compete with weeds is just the beginning,” said Dr. Abdelbagi Ismail, IRRI principal scientist and coordinator, Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia. 

Dr. Gary Atlin, senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) agreed with Ismail. “The project has produced excellent products,” he said. “A dissemination plan must be developed with supporting information showing solid evidence of the benefits of using GSR to the farmers.”

The project aims to decrease hunger and increase the food and income security of resource-poor smallholder rice farmers, particularly women rice farmers, in India, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, and Mali. In addition, small holder farmers in the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan, Laos, Sri Lanka, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Senegal, and in Sichuan, Guangxi, Yunnan, and Ningxia provinces in China will also receive some support from the GSR project in phase 3.

Atlin expects a very close collaboration, coordination, and joint planning among all BMGF investments at IRRI to integrate GSR into other BMGF-funded projects such as the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia and the Transforming Rice Breeding. The two projects develop and deliver improved rice varieties to millions of farmers in unfavorable rice-growing environments. 

Ismail also called GSR a “unique project” for bringing rice germplasm from China in its breeding system. “These are distinctive in terms of adaptation and yield potential,” he said.

Through the GSR breeding front established in 2009 at IRRI, the traits from the Chinese germplasm were incorporated into varieties that are suited for the tropical conditions of Asia and Africa, according to Dr. Jauhar Ali, IRRI-GSR project leader. “This year, there will be many more varieties from the Chinese germplasm will be released for the tropical regions,” Ali added.

 “This project is the first and largest agricultural research project by the Chinese institutions to help the world,” said Dr. Zhikang Li, GSR project director and chief scientist at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS). “We are making progress in this project with the help of all the partners involved.”

The inception workshop also featured the presentation of research activities by scientists from partner institutions. Dr. Lijun Luo, chief scientist at Shanghai Agrobiological Gene Center, discussed the GSR breeding activities conducted by the institution. Dr. Sibin Yu, the GSR project leader in China and professor at Huazhong Agricultural University, reported the major activities and achievements done by 27 partners within China funded by the China Ministry of Science and Technology. Dr. Baboucarr Manneh, the GSR project coordinator in Africa Rice Center, also presented the activities and achievements from their partner institutions in West and Central Africa.

Representatives from partner institutions in Bangladesh, India, Uganda, and Nigeria attended the workshop,which was hosted by IRRI on behalf of CAAS, 


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