Maputo — Smallholders struggling to grow rice in Mozambique could benefit from a variety that boosts yields nearly six-fold and is less prone to disease.
The new rice has an average yield of seven tonnes per hectare and is more resistant to diseases such as fungal blast and bacterial leaf blight, according to Carlos Zandamela, coordinator of the rice programme at the Institute for Investigation of Agriculture Mozambique (IIAM).
These are the most common diseases affecting rice crops, particularly among farmers unable to afford commercial pesticides.
Baboucarr Manneh, a breeder of irrigated rice at AfricaRice, a pan-African research organisation, said yields from today's varieties average just 1.2 tonnes per hectare in rain-fed systems, which comprise more than 95 per cent of Mozambique's rice-growing area.
Work began when the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in the Philippines, sent Mozambique 11,200 rice varieties for testing.
Scientists at IIAM selected 18 species and tested them in the south of the country. At harvest time they asked local farmers to choose the best varieties.
AtÃ¡lia Mathe, owner of one of the camps where the research was conducted, said: "We have been harvesting at a loss because of pests and the low quality of the rice crops. If what the scientists say [about the new research] is true I am sure we will have better income."
Manneh added: "Any project that aims to boost domestic rice production through dissemination of varieties resistant to the two major rice diseases in Mozambique has a lot of promise.
"The availability of resistant rice varieties will lead to improvements in yields and also the potential expansion of production into areas where, due to lack of adapted varieties, farmers could not grow rice."
"For irrigated and rainfed lowland ecosystems we can produce rice varieties that combine high yield, resistance to major diseases and superior grain quality accepted by local and international markets," said Surapong Sarkarung, an IRRI rice breeder based in Mozambique.
But he added that drawbacks could be: the low capacity of the seed sector to produce certified seed; lack of milling equipment to produce high standard milled rice and lack of credit to support farmers to buy inputs such as seed, fertilisers and machinery.
The new variety, which has yet to be given a local name, is technically known as IR80482-64-3-3-3. It was approved by the registration and release committee at Mozambique's Ministry of Agriculture last month and will be forwarded to IIAM's basic seed office for multiplying before delivery to factories for certification and distribution to farmers.
The research was funded by the government of Mozambique in partnership with IRRI.