On January 30, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) signed a record of discussions with the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar for the Project for Strengthening Rice Breeding System based on Genomic Technology and Information in Myanmar, a Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development (SATREPS) .
The project will introduce the genetic breeding of rice  to Myanmar and develop promising rice lines suitable to rain-fed lowlands and uplands, thereby strengthening rice breeding methods. The Japanese research institutions involved in the project are the Faculty of Agriculture at Kyushu University and the Bioscience and Biotechnology Center at Nagoya University.
Agriculture is an important industry in Myanmar, accounting for 28.6 percent of the gross domestic product and employing 61.2 percent of the working population (Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation of Myanmar, 2016). Rice is the most important cereal in terms of food security in Myanmar as it supplies more than half of the calories consumed by the population. Consequently, increasing rice production has been highly prioritized by the Government of Myanmar and measures have been taken such as upgrading the irrigation facilities and other production infrastructure, improving productivity through the efficient use of agricultural machinery and fertilizer, disseminating agricultural technology, and conducting research and development of better varieties of rice. Although many high-yield rice varieties suitable to irrigated land have already been released, only 20 percent (Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation, 2012) of the agricultural land planted with rice in Myanmar is irrigated. In order to enhance the stable yield of rice, efforts are necessary to develop varieties adaptable to unfavorable cultivation environments, such as rain-fed lowlands, which are said to account for 48 percent of the land under rice cultivation.
Although many indigenous rice varieties originally grown in rain-fed lowlands and uplands in Myanmar already have useful traits so as to survive in such environments, they also have unfavorable characteristics, such as a low yield or vulnerability to disease and pests. The project will employ DNA marker-assisted selection  techniques in rice breeding and improve those varieties with the efficient addition of useful traits such as high resistance to disease and pests. This approach will also be used to support the development of promising lines even at research farms located in rain-fed lowlands and uplands. As a result of the project, new rice varieties resistant to disease and insects and having high yields even in environments such as rain-fed paddy fields are expected to be created and widely used so as to improve the production level and income of rice farmers in Myanmar.
In addition to this project, JICA is extending support to improve the quality of rice seeds and promote distribution through the Project for Improvement on Accessibility of Rice Certified Seed, a technical cooperation project. JICA also provides support for agricultural production infrastructure through ODA loan and grant aid, providing comprehensive support toward agricultural development in Myanmar.
1: SATREPS is a joint research program that links research institutions in Japan and developing countries to develop and apply new technology and acquire new scientific knowledge. These efforts are focused on addressing global issues, including those related to the environment, energy, biological resources, disaster risk reduction and infectious diseases. SATREPS aims to advance solutions to challenges while improving the research level at research agencies in developing countries and strengthening their overall capacity to work on such issues.
2: Genetic breeding of rice: In rice breeding, the creation of an improved variety is highly dependent on cross-breeding. Therefore, rice breeding is usually a lengthy process involving cross-breeding, line selection and test evaluation that must be repeated over many plant generations. However, the application of genomic information and molecular technology can efficiently shorten the process and time required for rice breeding by identifying useful genes responsible for targeted traits in the breeding program.
3: DNA marker-assisted selection: Traits such as a high yield and resistance to disease and pests are derived from environmental factors and the genes of the variety. Traits determined by genetic differences arise from the bases which compose the DNA and the way those bases are sequenced. The differences in the sequence of the DNA are helpful to distinguish rice varieties or individuals produced through the breeding process. Using these differences in the DNA sequences as markers to select individuals is known as DNA marker-assisted selection.
Basic project information
Country: Republic of the Union of Myanmar
Project title: The Project for Strengthening Rice Breeding System based on Genomic Technology and Information in Myanmar
Planned implementation period: June 2018 to June 2023
Executing agency: Department of Agricultural Research, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation
Target regions: Aungban (Southern Shan), Myaungmya (Ayeyarwady), Thegone (West Bago), Yezin
Japanese research institutions: The Faculty of Agriculture at Kyushu University, the Bioscience and Biotechnology Center at Nagoya University
Specific project details: Evaluation of rice genetic resources in Myanmar, verification of useful genes, introduction of backcrossing and high-capacity genotyping, development and evaluation of promising rice lines that can adapt to the agricultural ecology, i.e., rain-fed lowlands and uplands