Access to appropriate varieties was a major constraint to improving performance and enhancing livelihoods of irrigated rice farming households in the Senegal River Valley. For the irrigated Sahelian environment, the Sahel series was started, which includes the short-duration Sahel 108 (IR 13240-108-2-2-3, an IRRI line), and the medium-duration varieties Sahel 201 (BW 293-2) and Sahel 202 (ITA 306) now widely grown in Senegal and Mauritania.
The Sahel varieties target the irrigated lowlands in the Sahel region of West Africa. Key breeding target is high yield potential (>10 t/ha), and adaptation to double cropping.
In total, 23 Sahel varieties and sister lines have been released in Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
Sahel varieties cover more than 90% irrigated rice area in Senegal River Valley (Sahel 108, Sahel 134, Sahel 202, Sahel 305). Annually over 80,000 ha are grown under the Sahel varieties.
Mean yields of the Sahel varieties are 6 to 7 t per ha on farmers’ fields. Internal rates of return to investments in the Sahel varieties are 66 to 72% and 77 to 83% for single and double cropping respectively.
Aromatic (fragrant) Sahel varieties (Sahel 177, Sahel 328 and Sahel 329) were launched in 2009. These are making rapid headway in Senegal, where demand for aromatic rice is increasing rapidly in urban parts. Among the three aromatic varieties Sahel 177 has the highest yield potential, Sahel 328 the shortest growth duration and Sahel 329 is the most appreciated for its taste.
A study conducted in 2017 shows that most consumers were willing to pay an average of 20% price premium for aromatic rice over ‘standard’ non-aromatic rice, corresponding to about US$ 0.12 more per kg. While local rice typically attracts a significantly discounted price compared to imported brands, the three locally produced aromatic rice varieties attracted premiums of only 4–8% less than those for imported aromatic brands.
One disadvantage of aromatic rice vis-à-vis local rice producers, however, is the typically low yields of aromatic varieties compared with non-aromatic ones. What is lost in terms of productivity is, however, seemingly gained with the price premiums these varieties attract.