Climate-smart rice for Africa
“The best adaptation to climate change is a breeding and seed system that rapidly develops, deploys, and then replaces varieties so that farmers will always have access to varieties adapted to their current conditions,” said Gary Atlin, senior program officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), in his keynote address at the 3rd Africa Rice Congress held in October 2013 in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
This strategy is at the heart of the project Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA), which is helping smallholder farmers who produce their crop under mainly rainfed conditions and are vulnerable to flooding, drought, extreme temperatures, and soil problems, such as high salt and iron toxicity, that reduce yields. Some of these stresses are forecast to become more frequent and intense with climate change.
Climate change and farming
Climate change is already having a negative impact on Africa through extreme temperatures, frequent flooding and droughts, and increased salinity according to Baboucarr Manneh, irrigated-rice breeder at Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) and coordinator of the African component of the STRASA project.
These environmental stresses covered by the STRASA project have a significant impact on the productivity of rice farms and farmers’ income. Drought, for example, is a major problem in rice-growing areas of Africa that are predominantly rainfed. Rice yield losses attributed to iron toxicity range from 10 to 100%, with an estimated average of 50%. A survey conducted in three West African countries (Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, and Guinea) by AfricaRice and national partners showed that more than 50% of the lowlands studied and about 60% of the cultivated rice plots were affected by iron toxicity.
“Until now, farmers didn’t have any solution to climate change except to keep using their traditional varieties,” said Peinda Cissé, a rice seed producer and founder-president of FEPRODES in Senegal (see Senegal's mother of modern rice farming). She cited the Senegal River Delta as an example. Vast areas in the delta have been abandoned by rice farmers because of high soil salinity.
Mrs. Cissé also mentioned low night temperatures that often drop to 9°C during the harmattan (a dry, dusty wind on the West African coast occurring from December to February) season as another big constraint to rice production in the region.
“That is why we welcome the new rice varieties tolerant of salt, cold, and iron toxicity for Africa announced by the Africa Rice Breeding Task Force,” she said.
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