African hybrid rice could boost food production

The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) has developed some new hybrid rice varieties that yield 7 to 10 tonnes per hectare. Currently, the average yield of inbred rice varieties in sub-Saharan Africa is 2.3 tonnes a hectare.

The AATF, in collaboration with a private firm, Hybrids East Africa, has developed 140 hybrid rice varieties using African parent lines. The 15 most promising hybrids, bred in Kenya and Tanzania, have high yields and are also resistant to diseases and the high temperatures found in Kenya's western Lake Region and coastal areas. Kenya and Tanzania will be the first beneficiaries of the new hybrid varieties. Trials will then be rolled out in other countries in East, West and Southern Africa.

Mail&Guardian Africa reports that local farmers have always depended on imported hybrid rice varieties from Asia that sometimes do not adapt well to sub-Saharan Africa conditions. One potential problem of the new hybrids is that seeds harvested from hybrid plants are not recommended for replanting because their superior performance is lost because of genetic separation, resulting in a lower yield. This means farmers cannot save seed from their harvest to plant again. Many farmers cannot afford the higher prices of hybrid seeds. With the new hybrids, extra profit from the hybrids' higher yield is expected to be far higher than the cost of the seeds.

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