Nigeria releases AfricaRice
“flood-tolerant” rice strains
In a major
breakthrough for Nigeria, which is subject to recurrent and
devastating flooding, two high-yielding flood-tolerant rice
varieties developed by the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice)
– FARO 66 and FARO 67 – have been officially approved for
The flood-tolerant varieties were selected based on farmers'
rankings and results of on-station, multilocation and on-farm
trials conducted in partnership with the National Cereals
Research Institute (NCRI)
and the National Rice and Maize Center (NRMC).
“For the first time in Nigeria, vulnerable rice farmers in
flood-prone areas will have access to this powerful innovation,”
Ramaiah Venuprasad, AfricaRice lowland rice breeder, who led
the team that achieved this feat. Rainfed lowlands occupy more
than 70% of total rice area in Nigeria and are prone to
recurrent flooding caused by heavy rainfall or overflow of
Yield losses resulting from flooding may range from 10% to total
crop loss. In 2012, when Nigeria experienced the worst flooding
in 40 years, floods reduced rice production by about 22%.
Flooding is expected to be increasingly problematic under global
warming, as studies by AfricaRice on future rice climates
project massive increases in overall precipitation in north and
Most rice varieties can get severely damaged or killed within a
week of severe flooding. “Depending on the intensity of
flooding, it can reduce yield, it can prolong the growth
duration and in extreme cases, it can cause total crop loss,”
said Dr Venuprasad. “We have seen this happen in many places in
Dr Venuprasad explained that the only possible solution to
tackle this problem is the use of flood-tolerant varieties. His
team used marker-assisted breeding to introduce into popular
Nigerian rice varieties a gene, called ‘SUB1’, which confers to
rice plants the ability to tolerate complete short-term
This technique has been very successfully used in Asia to
upgrade popular Asian rice varieties with submergence tolerance.
For instance, Swarna-Sub1 (popularly named the ‘scuba rice’) is
the first submergence-tolerant high-yielding rice variety
developed in Asia that was released in 2009. It is grown by more
than 1.3 million farmers in India.
Thanks to the achievement by Dr Venuprasad’s research team, rice
farmers in Africa can now benefit from the SUB1 technology. Dr
Venuprasad explained that initial efforts to introduce the SUB1
varieties directly from Asia were unsuccessful as these
varieties were not locally adaptable. AfricaRice therefore
decided to upgrade locally adapted popular rice varieties for
Highlighting the advantages of the flood-tolerant varieties
developed for Nigeria, Dr Venuprasad said, “Compared to their
parents, in addition to submergence tolerance, they have higher
yield potential and suitable growth duration and height.” Like
their parents, they have good grain quality with medium-long
slender grains and are moderately tolerant to iron toxicity.
Under submergence, FARO 66 can yield about 80 times higher than
its parent FARO 52, which cannot survive this condition. “This
makes FARO 66 a clear alternative for planting in flood-prone
areas,” said Dr Venuprasad. Even under non-submergence
conditions, FARO 66 showed a yield advantage of about 6-11% in
multilocation and on-farm trials. It matures a week earlier than
Similarly, FARO 67 can yield at least 10 times higher than its
parent FARO 60 under submergence. Under non-submergence
conditions, FARO 67 showed yield advantage of 10-29% in
on-station, multilocation and on-farm trials. It was favored by
farmers for its height and larger quantity of biomass that can
be used as livestock feed or as mulch to improve crop yields.
The flood-tolerant varieties are thus a result of precision
breeding and are not genetically modified organisms. As they
provide farmers with protection against short-term flooding and
serve as a type of ‘insurance policy,’ farmers can feel
reassured and invest in agricultural inputs such as fertilizer,
leading to higher rice yields.
Dr Venuprasad gratefully acknowledges that partnership with
national agricultural systems such as NCRI and NRMC and with
international institutes, such as the International Rice
Research Institute (IRRI),
has been a key factor in the development of the flood-tolerant
varieties for Nigeria.
The work on the development of the flood-tolerant varieties for
Nigeria was supported by the
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded ‘Stress-tolerant
rice for Africa and South Asia’ project led by IRRI. The
Asian SUB1 lines from IRRI were used as donor lines of SUB1 gene
as part of this project.
The testing of the flood-tolerant varieties in Nigeria was
supported by the
United States Agency for International Development-funded ‘Seed
scaling’ project, the
African Development Bank-funded ‘Support
to agricultural research for development of strategic crops in
Africa’ project and the Bill & Melinda Gates
mobilization of alleles for rice cultivar improvement in
sub-Saharan Africa’ project.
The main challenge now is to produce enough quantities of seed
of these varieties and get those seeds quickly into the hands of
Nigerian farmers. “There is already a lot of interest in getting
seed of the flood-tolerant varieties,” said Dr Venuprasad. A
roadmap to multiply and distribute seeds to farmers with the
help of government agencies and private seed companies is being
The potential for impact of these flood-tolerant varieties is
huge in Nigeria, which is the largest producer of rice in West
Africa and the second largest importer of rice in the world.
Rice is an important food security crop as well as an essential
cash crop in the country.
The submergence-tolerant rice varieties are also being tested
through the Africa-wide Rice Breeding Task Force for their
adaptability to other African countries that are flood-prone.
Five potential flood-tolerant varieties are under testing in
Attaining self-sufﬁciency in rice production is an important
goal of many African countries, including Nigeria. The
flood-tolerant varieties can contribute to achieving this goal
by boosting rice production and helping reduce dependence on
costly rice imports.
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AfricaRice is a CGIAR Research Center –
part of a global research partnership for a food-secure future. It is
also an intergovernmental association of African member countries.
The Center was created in 1971 by 11 African countries. Today its
membership comprises 27 countries, covering West, Central, East and
North African regions, namely Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central
African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo,
Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau,
Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of
Congo, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo and Uganda.
AfricaRice headquarters is based in Côte d’Ivoire. Staff are located in
Côte d’Ivoire and also in AfricaRice Research Stations in Benin,
Liberia, Madagascar, Nigeria, and Senegal. For more information
CGIAR is a global research partnership for a
food-secure future. CGIAR science is dedicated to reducing poverty,
enhancing food and nutrition security, and improving natural resources
and ecosystem services. Its research is carried out by 15 CGIAR Centers
in close collaboration with hundreds of partners, including national and
regional research institutes, civil society organizations, academia,
development organizations and the private sector.