Chinese researchers have been working on drought-tolerant rice for more than two decades and have had a significant breakthrough. They have developed a drought-tolerant rice variety to boost food production in Africa.
This comes after the Shanghai Agrobiological Gene Center introduced a strain of water-saving and drought-resistance rice in Burundi and Kenya a few years ago. Liu Zaochang, head of the center’s Africa program, said this variety of rice may be approved as market-ready next year. “We are probably the first in China to breed rice for Africa. Starting with Kenya, we are promoting several rice varieties to 11 African countries, especially Botswana, where rice hasn’t grown in nearly 50 years.”
Liu said Chinese scientists crossbred widely planted hybrid rice varieties with those known to thrive in arid soils to achieve drought-defying properties.
Drought-tolerant Rice Major Breakthrough
He believes it could rival hybrid rice in terms of yield and prosper in suboptimal conditions. “It saves labor because farmers can bypass the lengthy process of nurturing rice seedlings and directly plant rice seeds in the fields, and its demand for fertilizers is two-thirds of its conventional counterparts.”
John Kimani, a rice breeder from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, said the aromatic rice has an exceptional flavor, and the plants are highly productive, drought-resistant and water-saving. He highlighted that in terms of marketability, the variety is ideal. “We are thrilled at the prospect of releasing them for widespread cultivation.”
Liu pointed out that Kenya has 100,000 hectares of paddy fields, which annually produce about a third of the nation’s 300 tons of rice consumption. “It’s almost impossible for them to fill the gap by expanding the size of paddy fields due to covenants under the Convention on Wetlands. And turning hillsides into rice fields is expensive.”
New Variety of Rice Reduces Methane Emissions
The expert said the new variety of rice has curbed water use by more than 40 percent, and reduced methane emissions by at least 70 percent. He highlighted that methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its effect on global warming, and about 20 percent of the world’s methane emissions come from rice production.
Liu said drought-resistant rice varieties are a sustainable option in addressing climate change problems. “Drought-resistant rice varieties have great potential and can help achieve food self-sufficiency in Africa. It has helped African countries curb their reliance on rice imports.”