Saturday, May 22, 2010

Africa revives hardy, local rice vs Asian cousin

Alister Doyle in Reuters: Scientists are reviving long-ignored African rice to cut dependence on Asian varieties that may be less able to withstand the impact of climate change on the poorest continent, a report said on Friday.

Historically, scientists have focused on breeding useful traits such as disease resistance from African rice into Asian rice. Now the focus is on the reverse -- using African rice as the basic crop and improving it with Asian genes. "African rice was initially ignored by mainstream research," said Koichi Futakuchi, a scientist at Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) in a statement. "Now for the first time, we're reversing the gene flow."

Asian and African rice are the only two cultivated species of the crop in the world but the usually higher-yielding Asian type, introduced to Africa by the Portuguese in the 16th century, has become the dominant type to meet surging demand. Africa imports 40 percent of its rice with import bills estimated at $3.6 billion in 2008.

… Better breeding will help to raise yields of the African species, formally known as Oryza glaberrima, which has pear-shaped grains and a nutty flavor and was domesticated about 3,500 years ago in West Africa. It often grows better in harsh conditions than its Asian cousin, Oryza sativa, but yields less in good soils. "Overall it is grown only in scattered pockets, near the brink of extinction," the Benin-based AfricaRice said.

"African rice species are known for their hardiness -- their strong ability to compete with weeds, pests and diseases, volatile weather, infertile soils (including toxic levels of iron), and even human neglect," it said.

Rice farming in Sierra Leone, shot by Marc RACHOU, Wikimedia Commons via,under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic license

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