July 2, 2018
Scientists from IRRI hard at work to produce high-yielding, disease resistant varieties together with Nagoya University to help address food security
A research of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and Nagoya University that sought to address food security challenges as global population reaches 9 billion by 2050 helped developed more than 200 high-yielding, disease-resistant rice varieties.
The project, Wonder Rice Initiative for Food Security and Health (WISH), was a five-year cooperation (January 2013-March 2018) which produced and evaluated said rice lines under field conditions in IRRI, Nagoya, and Africa.
"We have worked closely with Filipino and African scientists to produce new lines and study the performance of these rice varieties in their own agro-environment conditions. With the improved rice lines, the project aims to help improve the lives of millions in Asia and Africa through agriculture and eventually have more farmers adopting the varieties," said WISH project leader Motoyuki Ashikari.
The research project also contributes to the efforts of multilateral and bilateral institutions under the Coalition for African Rice Development (CARD) formed to help address food security and poverty reduction in Africa.
For the WISH project, scientists use conventional crossbreeding, a rice improvement technique where desired traits (grain number, branching number for every panicle, panicle and grain size) from specific rice varieties are marked for transfer to recipient varieties by simultaneously applying modern technology, according to WISH project co-leader and principal plant breeder from IRRI, Kshirod Jena.
Scientists cross donor line once (source of traits to be transferred such as disease resistance or high-yield) with a recipient line (an existing rice variety or a variety preferred by farmers due to adaptive traits). After this, scientists then backcross the resulting line thrice to retain the inherent trait of the existing variety, while collecting the target trait from the donor.
Said technique recovers 93.75% of the background of the recipient rice varieties. This, in turn, results in better rice varieties.
The projected rise in global population, competition for land and water resources, and unstable climate could affect agriculture, the study noted. Thus, increasing agriculture production by 70% could help mitigate these effects.
Rice is a principal food for more than 3 billion people. In Asia, per capita consumption of more than 520 million people exceeds 100 kilograms annually, while in Sub-Saharan Africa, per capita consumption has risen to more than 27 kilograms. Rising income levels, for example, shifted diets to rice in African countries like Nigeria, Tanzania, and Niger.
The study found that improving yield and yield-related traits through backcrossing could help increase grain number and improve disease resistance.
The project is also aligned with JICA's support to end hunger under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and help address malnutrition and food shortage.