The project on rice research for tailor-made breeding and cultivation technology development in Kenya

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Project Outline


Rapidly increasing rice consumption in Africa

A rice shop in Kenya

Rice is an important cereal that is one of the staple foods in many sub-Saharan African countries. Rice demand in sub-Saharan Africa has risen dramatically because of recent increases in per-capita consumption combined with population growth. However, the growth in domestic rice production has not kept up with the increased consumption, resulting in higher rice imports. The sub-Sahara's self-sufficiency ratio in rice remains at about 70%, and the supply-demand gap has reached about 7 million tons annually (FAOSTAT, 2012). Rice consumption in the region is expected to continue to rise with the advancement of urbanization because it is quick-cooking, nutrient-rich, and highly palatable as compared to other cereals. Thus, in many sub-Saharan African countries, boosting rice production is a pressing food security issue.

In Kenya where this project is implemented, increasing domestic rice production is also a key challenge because of the rapid increase in rice consumption after the 1990's. Currently, Kenya imports more than 300 thousand tonnes of rice annually (FAOSTAT, 2012).

Rice cultivation in Kenya

In Kenya, which is located along the equator on the eastern side of Africa, rice-producing areas occur locally from lowlands on the coast of the Indian Ocean to the highlands at altitudes between 1,000 and 1,400 metres. Under such diversified environments, many different forms of rice cultivation exist, such as extensive cultivation in rain-fed lowlands, intensive cultivation in irrigated paddy fields, and upland NERICA cultivation, which has been introduced in recent years.

Kenya doubled its paddy rice production from 52,000 tons in 2000 to 110,000 tons in 2011 (FAOSTAT, 2012), mainly due to the expansion of rice acreage from 13,000 to 28,000 ha during the 10 years. To further increase rice production, not only an expansion of rice acreage but also improvements in rice yields are needed.

Rice production in Kenya is constrained by various biotic and abiotic stresses such as drought, cold weather at high elevations, high salinity, low soil fertility, rice blast disease, and the disease caused by the rice yellow mottle virus (RYMV). To increase domestic rice production, it is necessary to create rice varieties that can overcome these stresses, develop appropriate cultivation management methods for local communities and the environment, and implement a strategy for disseminating rice varieties and cultivation technologies to the farmers.

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A paddy field affected by drought Sterile grains caused by cold stress
Rice leaves infected with rice blast disease Water-saving rice production at
an irrigated upland field

Need for international joint research and cooperation

Collecting data at an experimental field in Kenya

In recent years, technological advancements in plant breeding and genetics have enabled the identification of genes/QTLs controlling useful agronomic traits and the improvement of rice varieties through introducing these genes/QTLs. More specifically, by using the information on DNA as well as single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers, breeding lines carrying useful genes/QTLs could be efficiently selected from among the crossbred materials.

We have embraced cutting-edge technologies of molecular breeding to develop breeding lines carrying genes/QTLs with improved drought tolerance, cold tolerance, tolerance of low soil fertility, and blast resistance; higher yields; etc. However, genetic factors alone cannot determine the productivity and stress resistance of rice in actual agriculture, which can also be affected by the cultivation environment and management factors. Therefore, to overcome stress conditions in the field, it is important to identify traits that can function effectively in the field and to clarify the conditions for the proper functioning of useful genes/QTLs.

Through collaboration between Japanese and Kenyan researchers, we can conduct cultivation trials to analyse the interaction among genotype (G), cultivation environment (E), and cultivation management (M) to develop rice varieties that can improve productivity and yield stability under the actual stress conditions in Kenya, and cultivation technologies that maximize the potential of individual rice varieties.

In Kenya, there is a need for enhancing research capacity to address rice-related issues because it is only quite recently that rice has become an active area of research. Therefore, we intend to foster young researchers and improve research environments through the implementation of the project, with the aim of establishing a rice research base in Kenya.