Unleashing the climate-smart potential of Africa’s forgotten rice


Native African rice, O. glaberrima (glaberrima), has been prized for centuries thanks to its unique flavors, short cropping cycle, and tolerance to harsh conditions, yet low yields have limited its spread, and most rice cultivated in Africa today is of Asian origin (O. sativa). Tracing its roots back to 1500 BC in present day Mali, glaberrima today is often grown in marginal areas where sativa can’t thrive. Yet with rising pressures to increase yields to feed growing populations, glaberrima risks being lost entirely.

Recent developments in ecological rice production can allow farmers to dramatically increase glaberrima yields. Since it was first identified in Madagascar in the 1980’s, farmers around the world have been practicing the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). With SRI, farmers manage their fields differently, allowing them to increase yields for any rice variety by an average of 30-50%, and often much more. With this climate-smart method, farmers reduce plant population by 80-95%, improve soil health with organic matter, avoid continuously flooding their fields, and improve plant establishment methods: improving output with lower inputs. SRI creates an environment in which plants are more resilient to the effects of climate change, including drought, high winds and tropical storms, allowing cultivation in changing and more extreme climatic conditions.

West Africa is seeing a rapid uptake of SRI practices by farmers who appreciate its adaptability and accessibility, but no projects have explicitly used SRI to unleash the potential of glaberrima. Offering glaberrima farmers the knowledge and resources needed to apply SRI will improve glaberrima yields, increasing potential for wider adoption and commercialization. Already desirable for its resilience, short growing season, and taste, high output glaberrima will empower African farmers to improve food security, conserve natural resources, and protect the diverse agricultural heritage of the region.

read more:  https://www.climatecolab.org/contests/2016/adaptation/c/proposal/1331504