June 22, 2011

New variety of rice designed for country

A new variety of rice developed in Mozambique to meet the needs of local growers will soon be available following extensive trials. The rice variety, Makassane, was bred by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and has been tested by the Mozambican government's Agricultural Research Institute (IIAM) in six areas of the country over a three year period. It is best suited for irrigated fields in the south of the country. Makassane's yield is similar to the most popular variety, Limpopo, which is about 6 to 7 tonnes per hectare. However, it has the advantage of being resistant to bacterial leaf blight and blast. Farmers in the village of Makassane found that the rice plants were tall enough to survive minor flooding while not too long to be prone to falling over. According to IRRI, the variety produces a long grain and has a higher milling recovery rate than the Limpopo variety.

This is the first rice developed by IRRI specifically for Mozambique, but the Institute is planning further releases. According to the organisation's coordinator for southern Africa, Dr Surapong Sarkarung, "this is just the beginning. We have recently identified many promising potential new rice varieties that combine superior grain quality with high yield and resistance to major diseases, and are suitable for growing in Mozambique." Sarkarung argues that "Mozambique has a vast area of land suitable for rice production. If better varieties like Makassane can be more widely adopted, Mozambique could become both self-sufficient in rice and a rice exporter because the grain quality of Makassane and the other rice varieties we are developing meet international quality standards".

IRRI has provided Mozambique with the foundation seed from which a first crop will be grown to produce seed for distribution to farmers. Funding for developing the seed came through the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project, which is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Mozambique Platform for Agricultural Research and Technology Innovation backed by USAID. In February IIAM researcher Rafael Uaiene told a seminar in Maputo that an important factor in the low productivity in Mozambican agriculture is the lack of use of improved seeds. He stated that improved seeds for rice were used by only three per cent of farmers in 2007.
Rice production in the country faces other obstacles. Farming in the Chokwe irrigation scheme in the Limpopo valley is being held back by a lack of machinery to prepare the fields, the effects of flooding, and serious problems associated with salinization due to poor irrigation and drainage. Meanwhile, the Bela Vista Rice Project in Matutuine, Maputo province, is working with technicians from Thailand and Vietnam to grow rice with a yield of up to nine tonnes per hectare over an area of five thousand hectares. The project is funded by the Libyan African Development Fund, which has so far invested more than 24 million US dollars out of a budget of 33 million dollars. (AIM)

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