USAID, University of California partnering to develop rice strains compatible with challenging African climate, soil

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Rice is a staple food in many African countries and constitutes a major part of the diet in many others. And there is an ever-increasing demand for the crop that production has to match up to catch up.

Some of these challenges are pests and diseases, drought and poor soils. To curb these challenges, scientists in several African countries have embarked on breeding transgenic rice varieties (that is those with a gene or genes transferred from another species).

Promising lines
In Uganda, the National Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) in Namulonge has been breeding such varieties that can thrive in nitrogen-deprived soils and in drought conditions.
Many farmers in northern, central and eastern parts of the country usually complain of poor yields due to drought.

The first trial was conducted in 2013 where the team obtained three promising lines that can be grown in soils with less nitrogen.The current trial is to evaluate the varieties under drought conditions as well. The project is funded by US Agency for International Development (UAID) in collaboration with University of California, which is collecting data on efficiency of the rice varieties.

Target interest
During the gene processing, the scientists introduced a gene, alanine aminotransferase, from barley for nitrogen efficiency and antiporter gene, from wild rice, for drought resistance.

In the trials the team is applying nitrogen at different levels. That is, soil where nitrogen fertiliser is not applied at all and where it is at 30kg of fertiliser per hectare, 60kg and 90kg respectively. But the target interest is where the rice is planted on soil with zero fertiliser.

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