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ClimateSmart Hybrid

It was recently report on CNN’s Eco-Solutions that up to one third of the fresh water in the world is consumed by rice production. Whether this staggering figure is exactly accurate or not, it is apparent that rice production uses too much water for the kilocalories of energy it produces for human consumption. This, of course, does not include the much lower yielding rainfed production.

At the same time, East Africans are consuming rice at an increasing rate, from about 6% per annum in Tanzania to about 14% per annum in Kenya and Uganda. While Tanzania is marginally self-sufficient in rice production, Kenya, Uganda and the rest of Eastern imports the majority of the rice they consume. Kenya imports about 80% of its rice, per capita consumption is increasing, and yields are slowly decreasing in many areas of the country.

In 2016 and 2017, East Africa underwent a moderate to severe drought, and even irrigated rice production suffered dramatically. Rice schemes in Kirinyaga, Kisumu and other counties could not supply water to their farmers for up to 6 months. Because Tanzania and Uganda have mostly rainfed rice production, the result was diminished yields in many 0roduction areas due to lower total rainfall.

With this background, and the increasingly variable rainfall patterns due to climate change, it seems obvious that those involved in rice breeding and production need to pay increasing attention to water usage in rice production. Here are two facets to this, and this document intends to address both.

Water Use Efficiency in Irrigated Environments

The combination of poor rice yields, inefficient irrigation methods, and rice cultivars which do not have any tolerance for water stress. ClimateSmart rice hybrids can and will change this equation. Currently it requires 4,000 to 5,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of milled rice on the supermarket shelf.

Through the use of stress tolerant hybrids and improved irrigation techniques we expect to reduce the water requirement per kg of rice to 2000 Liters in 3 years, and by further improvements in genetics and agronomics, to reduce this requirement to 1,000 L/kg of table rice. On the genetics side, gross yield, stress tolerance, and improved milling yields are all a part of the equation. On the agronomic side, changes required will include switching from transplanting to direct seeding in furrows, Alternate Wetting and drying, and improved weed control, among others.

The components of a system to improve water use efficiency would include

  1. 1. Focus on improving efficiency of irrigated rice systems in terms of liters of water per kg of edible starch.
    1. (a) Direct seeding vs Transplanting
    2. (b) Early Maturity fewer days to irrigate; less water use
    3. (c) Yield more kg of rough rice
    4. (d) Reduced irrigation less water to achieve high yields - Alternate Wetting and Drying or other techniques
    5. (e) Improved post-harvest techniques to improve Milling yield, both total and whole grain milling

  2. 2. Improved Genetics, which would include
    1. (a) Increased tolerance to alternate wetting and drying
    2. (b) Herbicide tolerance (Non GMO) to improve week control
    3. (c) Higher milling yields
    4. (d) Early Maturity; 100 days seed to seed.

Increasing Yields in Rain Fed rice Production

Firstly, the genetics of the plant itself is critical. Plant breeders have for decades bred for rice cultivars which have drought tolerance. Africa Rice has specialized in this effort, and has released many cultivars which have some drought tolerance, mostly based on inserts of Oryza glaborrima, Africa’s only native rice species. While these cultivars do have better tolerance to drought than cultivars generated elsewhere, they also tend to be intolerant to high yields. A second variable which is important in the breeding process is the development of early cultivars, which generate more yield per day; increasing yields in fewer growing days. Among the areas of genetic improvement are:

  1. Increased tolerance to alternate wetting and drying
    1. 1. Pre Flowering drought stress tolerance
    2. 2. Post Flowering drought stress tolerance
  2. 3. Herbicide tolerance (Non GMO) to improve week control during AWD
  3. 4. Higher milling yields so more of the field yield ends up on the supermarket shelf.
  4. 5. Early Maturity; 100 days seed to seed.

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