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New Breeding Directions
at AfricaRice: Beyond NERICA

Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice)

01 B.P. 2031 Cotonou, Benin
Tel: (229) 21 35 01 88
Fax: (229) 21 35 05 56

© Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) 2010

AfricaRice encourages fair use of this material. Proper citation is requested. The designations used in the
presentation of materials in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever by Africa
Rice Center (AfricaRice) concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area, or of its authorities, or
concerning the delimitation of its frontiers and boundaries.


Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) 2010. New Breeding Directions at AfricaRice: Beyond NERICA. Cotonou, Benin:
24 pp.


978-92-9113-340-6 (print)

978-92-9113-339-0 (pdf)

Guy Manners
BluePencil Infodesign, Hyderabad, India
Pragati Offset Pvt. Ltd., Hyderabad, India

Cover photo and those on pages 9 (top) and 14 are by Guy Manners
All other photos are by AfricaRice staff members

To many, NERICA ‘NERICA’1 is now a household name in Africa – a name that stands for
is synonymous good rice. In fact, the NERICA name is better known than that of the
organization that developed it! To many, however, NERICA is synony-
with the work that
mous with the work that earned the Africa Rice Center (ex-WARDA2)
earned the Africa the King Baudouin award in 2000 and Dr Monty Jones the prestigious
Rice Center World Food Prize in 2004. In fact, there are two types of NERICA va-
(ex-WARDA) the rieties: 18 upland NERICAs, pioneered by Monty Jones, and 60 low-
King Baudouin land NERICAs (NERICA-L), adapted for both rain-fed and irrigated
award in 2000 and lowlands, which were developed later by Dr Moussa Sié and national
Dr Monty Jones the (NARS) partners, and which earned Sié the Fukui International Koshi-
hikari Rice Prize from Japan in 2006.
prestigious World
Food Prize in 2004

Oryza glaberrima is a cultivated species that is found only in Africa.
Rice farmers throughout the rest of the world grow only O. sativa,
which is known as ‘Asian rice’ in Africa. Back in colonial times,
farmers could not pay off their debts with O. glaberrima, and in the
mid-1960s, some researchers even advised breeders to throw it
away! However, where O. sativa has the yield potential to feed the
masses, O. glaberrima is the rice of choice for many African farm-
ers because of its adaptability and ceremonial and cultural impor-
tance. Moreover, O. glaberrima has characteristics derived from its
origins on the continent, such as resistance to local diseases and
pests. Oryza barthii is a wild rice native to Africa – in fact it is the
ancestor of cultivated O. glaberrima.

ing of the two cultivated species. The upland varieties are derived
from O. sativa subsp. japonica (known in Africa as ‘upland rice’)
and the lowland varieties from subsp. indica (‘lowland rice’).

During the period 2000–2006, AfricaRice designated 18 upland

NERICA and 60 lowland NERICA-L varieties.
2 New Breeding Directions at AfricaRice: Beyond NERICA

Most African countries consume fore the crisis struck.4 Thus, the producing extra tillers in response
far more rice than they produce. unprecedented increase in rice to the insect’s presence so as to
In 2008, an estimated US$ 3.6 production can be attributed in still yield grain. In the lowlands,
billion was spent on imports. part to successful policy advo- NERICA-L19 tolerates iron
With most African countries cacy, in part to the success of the toxicity, NERICA-L25 tolerates
running up huge trade deficits, NERICA and other improved African Rice Gall Midge, and
the 2008–2009 global food-price varieties, and in part to the mo- NERICA-L49 tolerates both!
crisis was a major incentive to
tivation of the global food-price
increase domestic rice produc- The success of the NERICA vari-
crisis, leading to government
tion. Consequently, rice produc- eties cannot be denied. Particular
subsidies for inputs (seed, ferti-
tion in Sub-Saharan Africa rose highlights include Nigeria with
by 16–18% in 2008 and a further lizer, agricultural equipment).
close to 200,000 ha of NERICA
4.5% in 2009 (FAO data). Sta- NERICAs have brought specific 1 and NERICA 2, and Uganda,
tistics for specific ecologies and benefits to African rice growers, where 35,000 ha of NERICAs
countries are even more impres- in particular shorter growth were grown in 2007 alone, and
sive – for example, a 44% in- duration and tolerance to specific the country was able to halve its
crease in rice production across
biotic and abiotic stresses, while imports of rice in the five years
the Sahel, and 241% in Burkina
giving them yield that is generally from 2002 to 2007. Similar suc-
Faso (2007–2008, FAO data).
as good as the high-yield- cesses have been reported in other
Advocacy work by AfricaRice
during the earlier years of the potential O. sativa varieties. For countries, such as Burkina Faso,
decade3 had generated renewed example, in the field NERICAs Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Sierra
governmental interest in rice 1, 2, 4, 5, 7 and 14 have all Leone and Togo. The impact of
throughout the region, and many proven tolerant of stem-borer NERICA adoption on poverty re-
member states had rice-devel- attack. NERICA 1 is also tolerant duction has also been documented
opment strategies in place be- of termite attack – in both cases in Benin and Uganda.

… and far more besides

The Africa Rice Center (known as AfricaRice) has a long history and
has achieved far more than just bringing the NERICAs to ‘life’ and into

Improved Oryza sativa varieties

On the breeding side, the testing of newly introduced material and
conventional (O. sativa x O. sativa) crosses has been ongoing since
AfricaRice’s beginnings in Liberia in 1971. These continued for
upland and lowland rice at the M’bé headquarters near Bouaké, Côte
d’Ivoire, and for irrigated and lowland rice at Ibadan, Nigeria (where
AfricaRice has facilities on the campus of the International Institute
of Tropical Agriculture, IITA) and then at the Sahel Station, N’Diaye,
near St Louis, Senegal. Each of these has generated varieties that have
improved farmers’ production. For example, Sahel 108 was released for
irrigated systems in the Senegal River valley in Senegal and Mauritania
in the mid-1990s. Originally a line from the International Rice Research

PVS worked well

throughout West and
Central Africa as part
of the NERICA project
– giving farmers the
varieties they wanted,
and generating
valuable feedback for
the breeders
4 New Breeding Directions at AfricaRice: Beyond NERICA

Institute (IRRI), Sahel 108 is now ble and seed production projects newly established groups/enter-
the most widely grown variety in and schemes to speed up adop- prises with microfinance provid-
the Senegal River valley!5 tion. PVS worked well throughout ers and traders, so that they can
West and Central Africa as part purchase inputs (fertilizer and
Participatory varietal of the NERICA project – giving agro-chemicals). Takita empha-
selection farmers the varieties they wanted, sizes the need to have good-qual-
When the time came to test the and generating valuable feedback ity seed, from breeder seed all the
NERICAs, it was felt necessary for the breeders. PVS is still being way to foundation, registered and
to get the material into farmers’ used by AfricaRice throughout certified seed. He is instrumental
hands as soon as possible. Conse- Africa for the same reasons. in the regular training courses
quently, AfricaRice adopted par- ARI organizes in seed production.
Getting varieties into
ticipatory varietal selection (PVS), ARI has also become involved
farmers’ hands
in which a large selection of rice in emergency and post-conflict
lines was presented to farmers in ‘Seed’ is what the farmer plants situations. For example, it
the form of a village-based dem- in the field, while ‘grain’ is what
has been working to restore
onstration plot. Farmers were then people eat. Essentially they are
old varieties to Liberia and to
asked to select their favorite lines the same, but the qualities re-
expose rice farmers there to new
at various points during the crop quired for good seed are more
material. Popular varieties LAC
season, and to indicate the reasons stringent than those for good
23 and Suakoko 8 have already
for their choices. Over the follow- grain. Tadashi Takita is a Japan
been repatriated as breeder seed
ing two seasons, farmers took International Cooperation Agen-
cy (JICA) rice-seed specialist saved through the AfricaRice
increasing control of the ‘varie- genebank. At the same time, ARI
ties’ they chose. Special attention working for the African Rice
Initiative (ARI), based at Africa- has been training technicians
was paid to getting feedback from from the Central Agricultural
women. The majority of Africa’s Rice. Working with national part-
ners, ARI helps establish national Research Institute (CARI),
rice farmers are women, and their
seed systems. Farmers are identi- extension agents and NGOs
preferences often turned out to be
fied and trained in good seed in seed production; assisting
quite different from those of men.
management, organization, and with the local production of
PVS trials were linked to varietal small-enterprise management. ARI foundation seed; and assisting
release mechanisms where possi- and partners also try to link the farmers’ groups to produce certi-
fied seed.
In response to the global food cri-
The African Rice Initiative, based at AfricaRice, sis in 2008–09, the Government
has also become involved in emergency and of Japan funded an emergency
West, Central and East Africa.
working to restore old varieties to Liberia and to
Similarly, USAID funded an
expose rice farmers there to new material emergency relief project in four
countries in West Africa, partly


focusing on seed. These projects Integrated crop century begins, ICM and PLAR
aim to boost rice production in management and have already moved beyond the
2010 and beyond through im- participatory learning and borders of AfricaRice’s traditional
proved farmer access to quality action-research ‘home’ into East Africa. More
foundation seed, thereby reducing attention is also being paid
rice imports and averting the need Just having a ‘good’ crop variety to harvest and post-harvest
for costly food-relief actions. is never enough to maximize processes. AfricaRice adapted
farmers’ benefits, the way the a thresher–cleaner from the
Demand for breeder seed far field is managed and the crop is Philippines to reduce post-harvest
outstripped AfricaRice’s capacity handled after harvest are equally losses (in quantity and quality)
(through its Genetic Resources important. Thus, AfricaRice and tackle labor constraints. The
Unit, GRU), so ARI has introduced integrated crop
thresher–cleaner (or ‘ASI’,6 as it
conducted seed multiplication management (ICM) for rice, first
is better known) has been a great
for the Republic of Congo, the in the irrigated systems and then
success, especially in irrigated
Democratic Republic of Congo, in the lowlands, accompanied by a
areas, and continues to multiply
Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Liberia, participatory learning and action-
across the region.
Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda and research (PLAR) approach. As
Zambia, among others. the second decade of the 21st
6 New Breeding Directions at AfricaRice: Beyond NERICA

New breeding directions

With climate “It is very important to distinguish the various ecosystems in which rice
change a reality, is grown in Africa,” explains AfricaRice program leader for Genetic
Diversity and Improvement Moussa Sié. “Rice is an incredibly versatile
the work of
crop and is grown in deep water (up to 6m!), mangrove swamps, hilly
developing crop areas (upland), and rain-fed and irrigated lowlands.” These environ-
varieties adapted ments determine, to a large extent, the yield level that can be obtained
to the changing by a farmer. Lots of abiotic and biotic stresses intervene in these envi-
environment is ronments and the job of the breeder is to develop varieties that do well
going to keep plant under such conditions. In fact, breeders look for plants that fit a certain
breeders busy for ‘target population of environments’ (TPE), which also needs to include
socio-economic factors, such as consumers’ preference for a certain
quality of rice. Moreover, with climate change a reality, the work of
developing crop varieties adapted to the changing environment is going
to keep plant breeders busy for decades.

Rice-growing systems and scenarios in current AfricaRice member states




Geqnqi{ Wrncpf J{ftq Nqyncpf Kttkicvgf

oqtrjke nqyncpf nqyncpf
Main water Rainfall Rainfall + Rainfall + water table + Regulated Irrigation
supply water table
Guinea savanna– Guinea Sudan savanna to humid Sudan savanna Sahel to humid
Agro- humid forest zone savanna– forest zone to humid forest forest zone
ecological zone humid forest zone
Drought Drought Drought / Flooding Drought / Weeds
Weeds Weeds Weeds Flooding Pests and Diseases
Main Pests and Diseases Pests and Dis- Pests and Diseases Weeds Salinity
eases Pests and Alkalinity
stresses Soil erosion - Fe toxicity Diseases
Soil acidity ciency P and N Fe toxicity
Soil erosion
Soil acidity Fe toxicity
Fe toxicity

Production risk
Production costs
Production potential
Input use
Water control
Oryza sativa (japonica)
Oryza sativa (indica)
Oryza glaberrima

New-generation lines, all generated from back- desirable genes from O. sativa
LQWHUVSHFL¿FULFH crosses to their O. sativa parent into O. glaberrima. However,
over two or more generations. sterility of the inter-specific
“African rice varieties still need
So far, the goal of inter-specific hybrids was still going to be a
improvement,” says Sié, who is
breeding had therefore been to problem. “We needed a breeding
also the AfricaRice lowland-rice
improve O. sativa by incorporat- protocol to enhance the content of
breeder. “As a breeder, my life
ing O. glaberrima genes through O. glaberrima,” explains Semon,
goal is that the variety I breed to-
a back-crossing approach, and “so we decided to use ‘bridging
day is better than the one I bred
that goal was achieved. But, this material’ that we developed by
before, but I know that it will not
approach reduced the proportion crossing O. glaberrima with
be as good as the next one.”
of the O. glaberrima genome in O. sativa.”
“One important issue remains the final NERICA varieties.
Moreover, thanks to ‘transgres-
weed competitiveness, especially
Upland-rice breeder Mandè sive segregation’ – a phenom-
for the upland NERICA
Semon looked into reversing enon by which some progenies
varieties,” says agro-physiologist
the situation: “What if we were will express characteristics that
Kazuki Saito, who has been
to increase the proportion of are not present in either parent
with AfricaRice since 2006. In
O. glaberrima genes – would – it was possible to select lines
fact, the NERICA varieties were
we get better varieties?” His with good crossing compatibility
developed from just a handful
idea was essentially to try to to O. glaberrima or O. barthii
of O. sativa and O. glaberrima
reverse the ‘route’ and bring the that were called ‘bridging lines.’
parents. AfricaRice’s genebank
contains more than 2300
Kazuki Saito studies the weed competitiveness of different rice varieties
O. glaberrima accessions! So in
terms of making use of genetic
diversity, breeders have only
scratched the surface.
With so much potential in both
parents and progenies, it makes
sense to continue to improve the
NERICAs and develop new ma-
terial. But how to overcome the
age-old problem of hybrid ste-
rility of progenies derived from
inter-specific crossing?
In the past, inter-specific
(O. sativa x O. glaberrima) rice
breeding at AfricaRice relied
on anther-culture to accelerate
the production of fertile fixed
8 New Breeding Directions at AfricaRice: Beyond NERICA

These bridging lines (TGS lines)

displayed high tillering (over
40 tillers per plant), were semi-
The bridging lines used in the AfricaRice breeding program are trans- dwarf in stature (about 80 cm
gressive-segregant (TGS) lines that exhibit semi-dwarf stature (up tall) and were fully fertile; these
to 80 cm tall), many tillers (up to about 40) per plant, and O. sativa- characteristics were combined
like panicles. Two lines that are showing great promise are: TGS3, with O. sativa-like panicles (val-
which is a product of O. glaberrima CG14 x O. sativa Moroberekan, uable for yield).
back-crossed to Moroberekan; and TGS25, which is O. glaberrima
“We need to exploit the treasure-
RAM90 x Moroberekan, again back-crossed to Moroberekan. CG14
trove that is in African rice germ-
is a popular O. glaberrima breeding line, while Moroberekan is used
plasm,” says Semon. The main
for its drought tolerance (deep roots) and durable blast resistance.
problems with both O. glaber-
rima and O. barthii are lodging
gressive segregant’ that includes “anything that looks different from
and shattering. ‘Lodging’ is when
its parents.”
the plants fall over at, or just be-
A lot of the skill in the successful ‘creation’ of the bridging lines lies fore, maturity, and ‘shattering’
in generating enough second-generation (F2 VHHGVIURPWKH¿UVW is when the panicle scatters the
generation (F1) progeny to compose the F2 population to select from. seed at maturity – a good trait for
have some knowledge of how it works and how to overcome it.” obviously a drawback in a crop
pletely sterile because of failure of pollen development. In the past, ing O. glaberrima with the trans-
the ‘trick’ has been to use fertile pollen from the male parent (usu- gressive bridging lines (see box),
ally O. sativa) to make a back-cross. “Although the progenies from AfricaRice has developed shorter
the back-crosses are not fully fertile,” Semon explains, “currently, O. glaberrima-type plants that
we generate hundreds of segregating progenies to give us enough are less prone to lodging and also
fertile plants to select from.” do not shatter.
By using molecular markers, Semon and his team have been able to The sixth generation (F6) from
demonstrate that the fully fertile O. glaberrima-based bridging lines the cross of CG14 x TGS6
are one-quarter O. glaberrima – that is, 25% of their genetic makeup will be tested on-farm in 2010.
is from the O. glaberrima parent. This compares with only 5–10% For O. barthii, some progenies
in the NERICAs. “Moreover,” enthuses Semon, “all of the bridging derived from single and double
lines developed so far are inter-fertile with O. sativa, O. glaberrima back-crosses of O. barthii-based
and O. barthii.” In other words, a bridging line can be crossed with bridging lines are showing
any other line of interest. This bridging-line technique is forming the O. sativa-like plant type (about 30
basis for much of Semon’s work in breeding rice for the African rice- tillers per plant), O. barthii’s weed
growing ecologies. competitiveness, and good yield.
In fact, the O. barthii-based in-
ter-specific lines have themselves

Fourth-generation progeny of O. glaberrima (AC103549) x TGS 25 showing wide variation in growth habit and maturity

proved successful in on-farm tri- ation by NARS collaborators. the late Dr Yoboué N’Guessan
als, as they have inherited earli- Bridging lines are also used to – I liked the taste so much that
ness, tillering ability, large, long improve the existing NERICAs I didn’t wait for the sauce! The
and slender grains, and stem- in terms of drought tolerance, second was during trips I took
borer resistance from the O. bar- plasticity, yield, and grain quality to collect various rice varieties
thii parent, which have helped and type. from farmers’ fields in 1982.
increase yield and grain-weight Farmers told me, ‘glaberrima
over the O. sativa parent. By Improving O. glaberrima is farmers’ rice, sativa is for
2010, over 1300 lines possessing In 1980, Moussa Sié was office workers.’ So, why
these attributes had been devel- recalled from his doctoral studies shouldn’t we try to improve
oped for multi-location evalu- to establish the national rice O. glaberrima itself?” This is
program in his exactly what eco-physiologist
Upland-rice breeder Mandè Semon evaluates progeny home country of Koichi Futakuchi and Sié have
of O. glaberrima x TGS
Burkina Faso. embarked upon. Futakuchi’s
“Two experi- work showed that under
ences sparked unfavorable growth conditions,
my interest in yield of O. glaberrima was not
African rice lower than that of O. sativa. For
(O. glaberrima),” example, yield of O. glaberrima
he says. “The first (CG14) was 2.8 tonnes per
was at Gagnoa hectare in the rainy season in
in Côte d’Ivoire, iron-toxic fields without nutrient
where I had my application, while that of iron-
first taste of O. tolerant and iron-susceptible
glaberrima rice O. sativa varieties was 2.9 and
in the company of 2.4 t/ha, respectively. However, it
10 New Breeding Directions at AfricaRice: Beyond NERICA

is well known that O. glaberrima mutual shading and high canopy the uplands. Agro-physiologist
does not respond to inputs. respiration may arise, and Kazuki Saito brought some mod-
Futakuchi’s work showed that that may lead to incomplete ern indica varieties from IRRI to
the number of spikelets before filling of spikelets,” says test under African upland condi-
shattering in O. glaberrima is Futakuchi. However, improving tions. “These varieties were not-
not lower than in O. sativa at any O. glaberrima may one day turn ed for their performance in soils
fertilizer input level. “If problems out to be an elegant short-cut with poor fertility, which is also
of grain shattering and lodging to getting varieties in farmers’ typical of the African uplands,”
can be removed, the development hands that have high yield he says. In trials under various
of O. glaberrima varieties with potential and that are very well weed-management regimes, the
acceptable yield potential for rain- armed against Africa’s multiple Asian indicas out-performed
fed rice ecosystems (5–6 t/ha) will abiotic and biotic stresses. NERICA 1, O. glaberrima and
be possible,” says Futakuchi. One local check varieties, and also
concern is whether such improved Improving Oryza sativa displayed the bushy growth habit
O. glaberrima plants will be able With the general dismissal of typical of weed-competitive
to fill all their spikelets and form O. glaberrima from rice-breed- rice. Moreover, farmers liked
grains. “Because of the typical ing programs for so many years, the indicas. This not only shows
dense canopy of O. glaberrima, a lot of resources have been in- promise for direct use of indi-
vested by many organizations cas in the uplands, but also as a
in finding and develop- source of weed-competitiveness
Koichi Futakuchi examines rice plants in an ing better rice for Africa in future inter-specific crosses.
$IULFD5LFH¿HOG in and from the O. sativa Meanwhile, Asian indicas tested
genepool. For a long time, in the lowlands showed wide
crosses were made at Af- adaptation to hydrology (degree
ricaRice’s headquarters of water control). According to
(then at M’bé, Bouaké, irrigated-rice breeder Baboucarr
Côte d’Ivoire) and Nigeria Manneh, the majority of breed-
station (at Ibadan). Par- ing for the irrigated ecology will
ticular successes included continue to be based on indica x
the release of varieties for indica crosses, while advances
the rain-fed and irrigated in tolerance to biotic and abi-
lowland ecologies in Côte otic stresses are expected from
d’Ivoire and Senegal (the japonica x indica crosses.
WITA and Sahel series of
The field results achieved with
inter-specifics, O. sativa subspe-
Upland-rice farmers in Af- cies indica and japonica, and
rica grow mainly japonica O. glaberrima highlight the value
varieties; however, else- of evaluating a diverse range of
where in the world, indica plant materials in the diversity of
varieties are also grown in ecologies in which rice is grown.

Hybrid rice
AfricaRice has recently estab-
lished a hybrid-rice program, and +\EULGULFH±WKHPHFKDQLFV
experienced Egyptian hybrid- The commonest form of hybrid-rice technology involves three lines.
rice breeder Raafat El-Namaky The key to the system is the cytoplasmic male sterile, or CMS, line,
joined the AfricaRice Sahel Sta- in which the fertility of the nucleus (the major player in sexual repro-
tion in late 2009. duction) is suppressed by factors in the cytoplasm of the cell. Thus,
Hybrid-rice technology exploits the CMS line cannot pollinate itself – i.e., it is sterile. The two other
the phenomenon of ‘heterosis,’ lines required to make the system work are the Maintainer and the
or hybrid vigor, and involves Restorer. The Maintainer is genetically identical to the CMS, except
raising F1 hybrid seeds. that it does not have the cytoplasmic sterility factors. Crossing CMS
(as female) with Maintainer generates CMS seed. The Restorer may
The most common method of or may not have cytoplasmic sterility factors, but these are not domi-
hybrid-seed production is the nant over the ‘normal’ fertility factors of the nucleus; however, the
three-line method, which requires Restorer is genetically dissimilar to the CMS, so that seed from the
careful seed production (see box). resulting cross (F1) has as much heterosis as possible.
It is widely used in China, and has
Both Maintainer and Restorer lines can be self-pollinated and breed
been championed in Africa by the
true. However, the CMS must be crossed with either the Maintainer,
Chinese, with various exchange
to maintain the CMS line, or the Restorer, to generate the F1 seed
visits for African researchers to
that is grown by farmers. The hybrid (F1) seeds typically grow into
learn hybrid-rice growing tech-
plants with vigorous roots, strong tillering, large panicles and heavy
niques in China or on their home
soil. The advantage of hybrid
rice is that it almost guarantees a Certain characteristics are required of good CMS lines: good agro-
erosis). There are two major dis- (e.g., by having a large stigma). Meanwhile, the Restorer line needs:
advantages, however: seed yields strong restorer ability; good agronomic characters; to be taller than
(as opposed to grain yields) are the CMS line (to maximize dispersal of pollen over recipient CMS
grain will not breed true if saved Crossing-plots typically consist of two rows of male parent and 15 of
as seed. the female (CMS) parent, and need to be isolated from other plots
Meanwhile, there is still a lot (to avoid out-crossing) by distance (100–500 m), a barrier (taller
of room for increasing the yield than 2 m) or timing.
potential of conventional non-
hybrid rice and the yields of ex-
isting varieties in farmers’ fields
12 New Breeding Directions at AfricaRice: Beyond NERICA

typically falls well short of their Short-term goals of the new pro- AfricaRice molecular biolo-
potential. For example, lowland gram are to field test and establish gist Marie-Noëlle Ndjiondjop.
NERICAs typically yield 2–3 seed production for six hybrid “However, screening for differ-
tonnes per hectare, against their varieties imported from Egypt. ent abiotic and biotic stresses and
potential of 6 t/ha. According to At the same time, imported CMS selecting for good plant traits is
Moussa Sié, it makes more sense lines will be crossed with local time-consuming and expensive.”
therefore for AfricaRice to con- varieties (e.g., NERICA-L and Most of the traits that are selected
centrate its efforts on increasing Sahel varieties) to determine the in this way are complex traits that
the yield potential of conven- potential for using hybrid tech- are controlled by several genes.
tional (non-hybrid) rice and help- nology with these varieties and
Molecular genetic information
ing farmers achieve yields closer to start the process of developing
can be used to enhance breeding
to the varieties’ potential in the new CMS lines based on the lo-
strategies through techniques
foreseeable future than resorting cal material. In the longer term,
broadly referred to as marker-
to hybrid-rice technology. How- El-Namaky hopes to develop new
assisted selection (MAS).
ever, with the technology already F1 lines (based on local varieties)
Breeders at AfricaRice are using
gaining ground on the continent, and look at using hybrid technolo-
MAS to improve (upgrade)
it seemed appropriate for Africa- gy to overcome the sterility issues
‘mega-varieties.’ Such upgraded
Rice to establish its own hybrid- in indica x japonica crosses.
mega-varieties are effectively
rice program, albeit on a small
Hybrid rice also offers poten- identical to the original variety
scale. “Moreover,” says Sié,
tial in other areas. Screening of but carry the new gene.
“this will help build capacity in
122 hybrid varieties from China
hybrid-rice breeding techniques This requires close interaction be-
against African Rice Gall Midge
at AfricaRice and in the national tween the molecular biologist and
programs, rather than simply how revealed four that showed some
the breeder, because genetic anal-
to grow the varieties.” level of tolerance to the insect’s
ysis needs to be communicated to
attack – this is being verified on
El-Namaky believes that the the breeder almost in real time to
farm in 2010. AfricaRice is also
technology has something to of- guide the breeding process.
collaborating with the Chinese
fer African farmers in the areas Academy of Agricultural Sci- Working with Institut de re-
of yield, grain quality (especially ences (CAAS) to test hybrid rice cherches pour le développe-
amylose content), earliness and ment (IRD) and NARS partners,
lines from China for their adapt-
tolerance to stresses. AfricaRice has developed ‘up-
ability to Africa within the Green
A successful indigenous hybrid- Super Rice (GSR) project. graded’ mega-variety lines with
rice program for Africa will resistance to Rice Yellow Mottle
involve: Making greater use of Virus (RYMV), and these are be-
‡ 0XOWLSOLFDWLRQ RI IRXQGDWLRQ molecular biology ing evaluated in four countries in
seed of parental lines West Africa in 2010.
“Conventional breeding ap-
‡ 0XOWLSOLFDWLRQ RI &06 OLQHV proaches have been hugely Baboucarr Manneh believes that
(see box) successful in developing new ‘upgrading’ can be achieved in
‡ 3URGXFWLRQRIK\EULGVHHG varieties for humankind,” says just two or three back-crosses to

Molecular genetic information can be used the mega-variety. He hopes that

to enhance breeding strategies through African countries will allow quick
one-year validation screening for
techniques broadly referred to as marker-
such upgraded mega-varieties
assisted selection (MAS). Breeders at prior to release because of their
AfricaRice are using MAS to improve similarity to the original mega-
(upgrade) ‘mega-varieties,’ which are variety. This is already the case
effectively identical to the original variety but in parts of Asia where the sub1
carry the new gene gene was introduced by IRRI into
Swarna and other mega-varieties
to increase short-term flooding
(submergence) tolerance.
AfricaRice is also using biotech-
nology tools to work on the step
prior to MAS, that is, discover-
ing genes that convey resistance
to key stresses for rice in Africa,
such as RYMV, Blast, Bacte-
rial Blight and African Rice Gall
Midge. This work is done in part-
nership with advanced research
institutions in Europe (IRD; Cen-
tre de coopération internation-
ale en recherche agronomique
pour le développement, CIRAD;
Georg-August University Göt-
tingen) and Japan (Japan Inter-
national Research Center for
Agricultural Sciences, JIRCAS).
A special effort to genetically
characterize a core collection of
African germplasm (O. glaberri-
ma and O. barthii) using state-of-
the-art biotechnology is ongoing
with Cornell University.
A variation on MAS – known
as marker-assisted recurrent
selection (MARS) – is used to
increase the efficiency of the
14 New Breeding Directions at AfricaRice: Beyond NERICA

typing facilities. A great In the early days, many of the up-

boost to this effort was ob- land NERICAs were praised for
tained through the STRA- their high protein content; how-
SA (Stress tolerant rice for ever, “there is far more to grain
poor farmers in Africa and quality than protein content,”
South Asia) project jointly says grain-quality specialist John
executed with 14 NARS Manful, who joined AfricaRice
partners and IRRI in Afri- in 2009. Although many of the
ca. Protocols for screening NERICAs have some other good
for abiotic stresses (most grain-quality attributes, they
notably drought, iron toxic- have also inherited some not-so-
ity, salinity and cold) were good traits from their parents, in
thoroughly reviewed and particular chalkiness.
streamlined with IRRI.
Through another joint “A major lesson in all this,” ex-
Irrigated-rice breeder Baboucarr Manneh plains Manful, “is for breeders to
assessing rice plants in a salinity-tolerance
project with IRRI and the
screening tank CAAS, the Green Super broaden their choice of parents,
Rice project, phenotyping not only in original crosses, but
exploitation of the genes that at subsequent stages as well.”
facilities for biotic stresses have
are present in different parents
been upgraded at AfricaRice’s Grain-quality testing was
and ensure that as many of those
temporary headquarters in Co- formerly conducted on an ad
genes as possible are transferred
tonou, Benin. Protocols for hoc basis, whenever breeders
to the progenies in the shortest
screening for weed-competi- requested it; however, from
possible time. AfricaRice will be
tiveness, including for parasitic 2010, the grain quality of
using this method for drought-
weeds, have also been improved. breeding lines will be routinely
tolerance, but it also has great
potential for generating ‘durable’ evaluated in the fourth and
Grain quality fifth generations, before they
resistance to diseases and pests.
The importance of grain qual- are placed in ‘observation
Improved phenotyping ity in rice breeding has been in- nurseries.’ Facilities at the
creasingly recognized since the Sahel and Tanzania stations will
‘Phenotyping’ is measuring ob- enable lines to be tested for such
turn of the millennium – locally
servable traits of the rice plants characteristics as head-rice ratio
produced rice needs to rival im-
that are affected by genotype, (a measure of the wholeness of
ports if domestic production is
environment and their inter- the grains), percentage recovery
to stem the flow of (previously
action. Traits typically pheno- (the yield of clean milled grain
cheap) imported rice into the re-
typed include plant morphology, in comparison with either brown
gion. Overall, grain quality is a
development, growth and physi- rice or paddy), grain appearance
product of variety characteristics,
ological characteristics. and cooking characteristics
environmental conditions during
AfricaRice is placing great em- growth, and the quality of post- (time, digestibility, etc.).
phasis on improving its pheno- harvest handling. Additional facilities at

headquarters in Cotonou will combine a grain type (size and for rice and should ensure their
enable determination of protein shape) that consumers appreci- application;
and amylose contents (amylose is ate, with aroma and early matur-
the most important determinant ity. Two of the six varieties have
courage the involvement of
of the quality of cooked rice), been adopted in Togo, and are
the private sector in seed sup-
and viscosity (a measure of rice also proving popular in Uganda,
ply and trade;
texture after cooking). where AfricaRice is linking them
with the private-sector company ‡ 1$56VKRXOGEHVWUHQJWKHQHG
AfricaRice is also working to produce breeder and foun-
Tilda Uganda Ltd.
with the HarvestPlus Challenge dation seeds;
Program to screen breeding Quality seed
lines for the micronutrients iron ‡ 7KHLQIRUPDOVHHGVHFWRUPXVW
“One of the biggest constraints be recognized and helped to
and zinc in collaboration with
to the successful use of improved improve the quality of seed.”
the University of Adelaide in
varieties is the availability of
Australia. In 2006, some 299 To that end, a regional workshop
seed,” says AfricaRice director
lines were screened (177 upland was organized in September
general Papa Abdoulaye Seck.
and 122 lowland), and in 2007 2008 by the West Africa Seed
A study in Nigeria showed that
some 325 (mostly O. glaberrima) some farmers were abandon- Alliance to initiate the process
lines were screened for these ing NERICA because of lack of of standardizing variety-release
micronutrients. seeds. The main reason for seed procedures across the sub-region
One grain quality that has been shortage is that national seed sys- and establishing a regional cata-
overlooked for the most part in tems lack the staff, equipment and log for varieties of maize, mil-
Africa is aroma. Gambiaka is funding to assure farmers an ad- lets, rice and sorghum. The idea
‘the’ long-standing aromatic va- equate supply of quality seeds on is that any variety accepted into
riety in the region, especially in a regular basis. Only a quarter of the national catalog of any of
Mali, where it is grown over vast African countries have passed a the 17 participating states would
areas. The fact that it is a favorite seed act on specific seed regula- be considered automatically re-
among consumers – despite being tions. But even in these countries leased in all the other states. In
more expensive than other varie- enforcement mechanisms and re- effect, this means that any vari-
ties – indicates the potential for sources for implementation are ety that is added to the regional
aromatic rice. Successful aromat- inadequate. catalog may be grown by farmers
ic rice has a specific shape, good anywhere in the sub-region.
In its role as an association of
milling characteristics, taste, states, AfricaRice therefore rec- Meanwhile, the variety release
cooking qualities and nutritional ommended to its Council of Min- committee in Senegal has accept-
value. Breeders from AfricaRice isters (of agriculture) that: ed PVS trials as part of the pre-
and Togo developed the ORY- ‡ ¦(YHU\ FRXQWU\ VKRXOG HVWDE- release process for new varieties,
LUX series of aromatic rices by lish standard seed laws, seed and this was a contributory factor
crossing their own WITA 1 with quality-control mechanism in the release of 16 AfricaRice
Pusa Basmati. These varieties and seed certification systems varieties in 2009.
16 New Breeding Directions at AfricaRice: Beyond NERICA

Partnerships and capacity- Wopereis. ROCARIZ – the West IRRI, the International Center
building and Central Africa Rice Research for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)
and Development Network (in and NARS partners to jointly set
Partnerships are natural to
its French acronym) – built on priorities for rice breeding for
AfricaRice. Since its inception in
AfricaRice’s highly successful the continent, divide tasks and
the early 1970s, AfricaRice has
Task Forces collaborative discuss results. The expectation
always been an association of
mechanism of the 1990s. The is that this new rice-breeding task
member states. From an original
arrangement enabled researchers force will result in faster, better
membership of 11 countries,
from the same fields of study to documented and better targeted
AfricaRice now has 24 member
meet regularly to discuss their release of new varieties.
countries distributed all over the
work and share experiences.
continent. The role of AfricaRice and
Unfortunately, the funding for
the new breeding task force is
“Perhaps what we have been ROCARIZ expired in 2006.
heightened because of the state
missing most of all in recent “The good news,” continues
of many of the national programs
years is the ‘task force’ structure Wopereis, “is that we have a new
with which it works. “Africa’s
of ROCARIZ,” muses deputy grant for breeding coming on
researcher population has been
director general and director of line from Japan in 2010.” This
aging,” says Wopereis. “As
research for development Marco funding will allow AfricaRice,
older crop breeders retire, for
the most part they are not being
replaced by younger research-
ers.” Not only is the population
of rice breeders being slowly
The International Network for the Genetic Evaluation of Rice eroded, but institutional memory
in Africa (INGER-Africa) allows for the worldwide sharing and is lost every time another breeder
evaluation of promising varieties, landraces, wild rices, and lines retires. Moreover, younger re-
from breeding programs. To serve the national programs of Africa, searchers are often schooled in
INGER-Africa assembles nurseries for the major ecologies (upland, biotechnology, but are less expe-
rain-fed lowland, irrigated and mangrove) and stresses (RYMV, rienced with classical breeding
Blast, acidity, iron toxicity, salinity and weeds). It can also identify approaches and hands-on field
2YHUWKH¿YH\HDUV±,1*(5$IULFDVXSSOLHGRYHU need to improve the capacity of
seed samples of almost 17,500 lines to scientists in 38 countries, the national programs to conduct
including 26 African countries (13 each in West and Central Africa, crop breeding,” says Wopereis.
and East and Southern Africa). The supply of such materials has
Another very important devel-
been growing annually from just 171 samples in 2005 to nearly
opment is the global rice sci-
10,000 in 2009. INGER-Africa thus provides an invaluable service
ence partnership that has been
to AfricaRice partner breeders in the national programs – material
forged between AfricaRice, IRRI
and CIAT, and will become op-
erational in 2011. In terms of

Mamadou M’Baré Coulibaly is rice breeder and head of the irrigated-rice program of Institut d’Economie
Rurale (IER) in Mali. He has been collaborating with AfricaRice since 1985, when he conducted yield trials
and observation nurseries with AfricaRice-supplied lines. In 1990, he became actively involved in the Task
Forces and their successor, ROCARIZ, initially as national correspondent and president of the breeding
task force. From 2004, he was chairman of the steering committee until ROCARIZ funding dried up in

“I have conducted collaborative activities with AfricaRice in the selection of the lowland NERICAs, screening
lines of AfricaRice are released in Mali, including the most popular variety cultivated in the dry season in
the irrigated ecology (WAT 310-WAS-B-28-3-3-2, occupying 75% of the total area) and the most popular
variety in the uplands (NERICA 1, occupying 70% of the area).”

Coulibaly appreciated the contribution of AfricaRice to capacity-building at IER through training and pur-
chase of equipment as part of collaborative projects. Several researchers of the irrigated and lowland rice
AfricaRice also helped equip a biotechnology laboratory at the Agronomic Research Station in Niono.

Coulibaly has worked alongside AfricaRice lowland-rice breeder Moussa Sié in Benin and Togo, selecting
“promising lines descended from the crossings of AfricaRice and my own program.” He has also been in-
volved in participatory plant breeding, PVS and MAS.

Coulibaly indicates that he found the task-force mechanism of collaboration extremely helpful, and is fully
supportive of the plans to re-launch a task-force mechanism to link rice researchers across the continent.
He wants to see AfricaRice build on the achievements of ROCARIZ, while retaining (or re-instituting) the
task-force connection between AfricaRice and the NARS.

Alhassan Tswako Maji is a rice breeder with the National Cereals Research Institute, Badeggi, Nigeria. He
appreciated the germplasm exchange that occurred within the task-force context, which brought valuable
material into the country and his own breeding program. For example, WITA 4 was released in Nigeria for
its iron-toxicity tolerance, yield under low inputs, and yield potential, and is now widely grown in the country.
agronomy, plant breeding, and statistics in agriculture.

Thanks to the AfricaRice and task-force collaborations, he has been able to make crosses for Nigeria, in-
cluding O. sativa x O. glaberrima (TOG 6542), some progenies of which have been shared with AfricaRice
18 New Breeding Directions at AfricaRice: Beyond NERICA

View from Nigeria...Contd from Page 17

that are to be shared with AfricaRice and regional partners.

Also as a result of the collaborations, Nigeria has released NERICAs 1 and 2, and is in the process of
releasing NERICAs 7 and 8, and locally bred NCRO 49. Maji notes that NERICA-L19 is also likely to be
released in the country in due course.

He is very happy with the collaboration with AfricaRice, not least for the personal professional develop-
ment – he obtained his Master’s degree on drought and O. glaberrima work (evaluating almost 1200 lines)
at AfricaRice under African Development Bank (AfDB) sponsorship, and his doctorate involves crosses
for resistance to African Rice Gall Midge and MAS at IRRI, supported by AfricaRice and with Rockefeller
Foundation funding.

Maji is inspired by the level of collaboration he has experienced, especially with respect to varietal dis-
semination (PVS), exchange of material among countries, and information dissemination. He looks forward
Nigeria – through appropriate use of research results, and availability of additional varieties. He also sees

breeding, AfricaRice has already

established a strong bond with
IRRI since 2008, to the extent
that nearly all breeding-related
projects are now executed joint-
ly by the two centers. This new
partnership allows joint research
priority-setting and sharing of
techniques and resources.

Breeding in perspective
“We also need to pay “Breeding is extremely important,” says Wopereis, “but we won’t
much more attention achieve the yields necessary to feed Africa through breeding alone.”
A well-respected and competent agronomist in his own right, Wopereis
to small-scale
recognizes the need to support rice breeding with agronomic research
mechanization. to enable farmers to get the best out of new varieties. “We hope that we
Too many farmers – will be able to close yield gaps and break yield barriers through breed-
many of them women – ing,” he says, “but for farmers to get to a new yield ceiling and to main-
still have to farm with tain yields will require good crop husbandry. We also need to pay much
their bare hands, from more attention to small-scale mechanization. Too many farmers – many
land preparation to of them women – still have to farm with their bare hands, from land
preparation to harvest and post-harvest activities. That has to change.”
harvest and post-
harvest activities. Looking at the new inter-specific rice plants in the field around him,
That has to change” he reflects, “The NERICA varieties are a huge success – but breeding
never stops! It is good to know that we have new products in the pipe-
line for Africa’s rice farmers.”
20 New Breeding Directions at AfricaRice: Beyond NERICA


1. The term ‘NERICA’ was coined in 1999 from ‘New Rice for Africa.’
2. WARDA (West Africa Rice Development Association) is the former
name of the Africa Rice Center.
cause of its structure as an association of member states, with di-
rect links to ministers of agriculture.
January 2007.
5. Each crop season, an average of about 50 farmers are surveyed for
100% of farmers surveyed in the Senegal River valley were cultivat-
ing Sahel varieties (Sahel 108, 201 and 202, along with the newer
Sahel varieties released in 2007 and 2009), of these Sahel 108 was
the most widely grown.
6. ‘ASI’ is derived from the combination of partners that originally de-
veloped the thresher–cleaner in West Africa – ADRAO (French of
WARDA), SAED (Société d’aménagement ed d’exploitation des
terres du Delta du Fleuve Sénégal et des vallées du Flueve Séné-
gal et de la Falémé) and ISRA (Institut sénégalais de recherches
7. ‘Hybrid rice’ should not be confused with the technology used to
are pure breeding lines or varieties derived from the hybridization
generation (F1) seed from a cross – although it grows true-to-type
therefore cannot be used as seed.

Without whom…

AfricaRice would never be able to conduct any of its research-for-development activities without the
generously contributed to its budget since 2000:




gium Directorate General for Development Cooperation (DGDC)

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22 New Breeding Directions at AfricaRice: Beyond NERICA

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