Flood-tolerant rice for enhanced production and livelihood of smallholder farmers of Africa

 Lupakisyo Mwakyusa1,, Shalabh Dixit, Max Herzog, Maria Cristina Heredia, Richard R. Madege , and Newton Lwiyiso Kilasi   |  

Africa’s average rice yield lags significantly behind Asia, with African farmers harvesting an average of 2.28 tons per hectare (t/ha) compared to Asia’s 4.61 t/ha. This productivity gap is particularly pronounced among small-scale resource-poor farmers who practice rainfed agriculture.  Some of the major challenges for rice farmers across Africa are flooding and prolonged dry spells. These challenges have become more frequently pronounced as the largest African production areas are located in rainfed environments that suffer from weather variabilities.

Rice serves as a dietary cornerstone for over half of the world’s population. It contributes significantly, accounting for approximately 23% of the daily caloric intake.  Asia has historically dominated rice production, with China and India jointly responsible for over 90% of the world’s rice output. Nevertheless, substantial changes have been observed in Africa, driven by shifts in dietary preferences, population growth, and urbanization.

There was a significant surge in rice consumption, from 9.2 metric tons (mt) in 1990 to 31.5 m. in 2019. This rapid consumption growth is beginning to strain production capacities. It has been reported that between 2009 and 2019, Sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) average rice consumption stood at 27.4 mt, surpassing the average production of 15.4 mt over the same period.

This persistent deficit between production and consumption has made Africa heavily reliant on rice imports, incurring substantial costs. Over the past five decades, Africa has experienced a notable increase in rice production, primarily attributed to the expansion of cultivated areas rather than substantial improvements in productivity.

Africa’s average rice yield lags significantly behind that of Asia, with African farmers harvesting an average of 2.28 tons per hectare (t/ha) compared to Asia’s 4.61 t/ha. This productivity gap is particularly pronounced among small-scale resource-poor farmers who practice rainfed agriculture.

The Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) asserts that addressing these constraints is essential to curb rice import dependence, which can be achieved through research and development efforts.

Some of the major challenges for rice farmers across Africa are flooding and prolonged dry spells. These challenges have become more frequently pronounced as the largest African production areas are located in rainfed environments that suffer from weather variabilities. 

These abiotic constraints interact with harsh weather conditions, amplifying their detrimental effects. Recent data emphasize that small-scale farmers are responsible for more than 90% of rice output in Africa. Rainfed farming dominates rice production in most SSA countries with nearly 70% of rice production occurring under rainfed conditions. Rainfed lowlands, in particular, contribute significantly to rice production in Africa, encompassing approximately 37% of cultivated areas and yielding 48% of the production.

However, the full potential of rainfed lowlands remains untapped due to challenges related to the adverse effects of floods. It is evident that African major rice-growing areas are flood-prone with varying water levels, crop stages during floodwater occurrence, and durations of water accumulation. Moreover, with the existence of various ecosystem types, even the types of flooding are different; some areas experience more than one type. 

These types commonly include floods at germination, flash floods, partial submergence, and prolonged deep water. It is devastating that the impacts of flooding are capable of causing total crop losses, thus leading to famine. Therefore, addressing the challenges posed by floods is imperative to enhance rice productivity and expand rice cultivation areas, particularly in rainfed lowlands.

Developing high-yielding, flood-tolerant rice is essential for ensuring resilience in rice farming. While extensive research has been conducted globally, there is limited and scattered research specific to Africa. Researchers reported the promising adoption of flood-tolerant varieties by the majority of farmers in Asia. However, this is not the case for Africa, where there are few reports regarding the adoption, distribution, and use of varieties capable of withstanding inundation. 

The intriguing scenario is that the continent possesses a wealth of rice cultivars suitable for genetic improvement. This offers promise for breeding efforts in the face of escalating weather challenges. Therefore, to potentially harness the rice-growing areas where floods are common, it is imperative to publicly reveal the current measures and future directions for developing flood-tolerant rice. As a result, this review aims to present Africa’s current progress in addressing the various types of flooding stresses in rice cultivation.

This review has examined the progress in Africa’s development of flood-tolerant rice varieties. While some strides have been made, the region’s achievements remain limited, underscoring the critical importance of flood-tolerant rice varieties for improving productivity and ensuring food security. 

The scattered nature of information on developing flood-tolerant rice varieties highlights the need for effective coordination and thorough documentation. Despite the limited number of flood stress-tolerant varieties currently available in the region, it is imperative to ensure their widespread dissemination in flood-prone rice cultivation areas. This requires studying farmers’ perceptions, adoption rates, and the performance of these varieties as data on these aspects are scarce. 

Such studies can provide valuable insights into crop survival, quality, and overall performance, potentially leading to significant improvements in farmers’ harvests and food availability. Nonetheless, it is essential to recognize that further efforts are still needed in the identification and development of flood stress-tolerant varieties, given the alarming intensity and frequency of floods in Africa. 

Furthermore, there is also a crucial need for the development of rice varieties that can withstand multiple types of flooding. Currently, no such varieties are available, even though the same ecological regions can experience diverse types of flooding. Therefore, the future success of Africa’s rice sector hinges on dedicated and productive research efforts, coupled with effective dissemination and adoption strategies.

Read the study:
Mwakyusa L, Dixit S, Herzog M, Heredia  MC, Madege RR, & Kilasi NL. (2023).Flood-tolerant rice for enhanced production and livelihood of smallholder farmers of Africa. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems 7, 1244460.

 

Leave A Response