Let’s embrace the hybrid rice varieties

African Agricultural Technology Foundation Rice Project Manager Kayode Sann

African Agricultural Technology Foundation Rice Project Manager Kayode Sanni.

Photo credit: Sammy Waweru | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) is a non-profit agency aiming to make technology available to smallholder farmers. AATF and the government will host the first ever African Conference on Agricultural Technology (ACAT) from October 30 to November 3.

AATF Rice Project Manager, Kayode Sanni, spoke with us about the summit and the new hybrid varieties developed.

Why is the ACAT conference important?

 ACAT is an innovative conference on game-changing novel agricultural technology, ideas and policies that will move our farming forward.

Held under the theme “Agricultural Resilience Through Innovation,” ACAT will be a unique gathering fronting Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in food production.

ACAT will bring together key global players, including government representatives, industry leaders, policymakers, technical experts, private institutions, farmers, women and young people to build momentum towards action on current discussions and recommendations on the importance and use of innovations in agriculture.

The conference will also highlight the centrality of STI in fostering agricultural transformation. It will be the principal forum for discussing innovative technology that catalyses more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agriculture in Africa.

It will also highlight technological advances in agriculture.

Rice is fast becoming a staple in Kenya and beyond. Why haven’t most farmers have adopted hybrid varieties?

Hybrid rice technology is new in Africa. The level of awareness is low. Since it is new, most farmers have little information on the market. Many private seed companies do not have enough resources to diversify their business portfolio.

AATF has been running a programme on hybrid rice. What are these varieties and where are they?

Before the release of the hybrid rice, farmers used to grow inbred varieties, which are low yielding. It made the cost of production high. The local rice could not compete with imports in terms of price.

AATF, Hybrid East Africa Ltd and other partners have commercially released 15 hybrid rice varieties in Africa in the last five years. Eleven of these were released in Kenya.

What are the benefits of these varieties?

The hybrids are developed to make locally-produced rice competitive in terms of price and grain quality. These hybrids are high-yielding, thus increasing a farmer’s income. They have a yield advantage of up to three tonnes per hectare over the best commercial inbred. Farmers are now realising an increase of about 40 per cent.

The hybrids take three to four months to mature. Hybrid rice developed in Africa is capable of tolerating most of the biotic and abiotic stress.

Its production is contributing to the reduction of imports, thus leading to rice self-sufficiency and food and nutrition security.

Adopting hybrid technology leads to direct and indirect employment through seed companies.

Where can one get these varieties?

These hybrids are with our private partners like Afritec, Bayer/Proceed, Advanta and through the Alliance for Hybrid Rice in Africa (AHyRA).

AATF also encourages seed merchants and stockists to register as AHyRA members.

This technology will help farmers increase profits and income, thus improving their livelihoods. Since the hybrids are early-maturing, farmers can produce other crops after harvesting using the residual water on the land. The early maturity could allow the varieties to escape drought.

What strategies does AATF employ to ensure the varieties are accessible and affordable to smallholder farmers?

AATF and partners are working with millers and financial institutions to help farmers secure credit for buying the seeds. As the seed companies improve capacity for production, the prices of seeds will definitely go down.

What support or resources does the AATF offer to extension services, farmers’ groups and individual growers to enhance rice production?

AATF has partnered with other organisations like the Rice Promotion Programme of the Ministry of Agriculture, Cereals Growers Association and other community-based agencies.

AATF has also formed a public-private partnership called Alliance for Hybrid Rice in Africa (AHyRA) for the development, testing, promoting and capacity development of farmers, seed companies and other stakeholders in the value chain.

Any success stories or case studies on the impact of AATF’s interventions on rice production and food security in Kenya?

More than 30 tonnes of hybrid rice seeds have been sold in Kenya. A partnership is being fostered between millers and farmers. This is increasing the amount of paddy for millers to ensure optimal operations.

Farmers growing hybrid rice are expanding the production area and business using the extra proceeds.

What are the key goals and targets of the AATF regarding rice production in Kenya in the coming few years?

 The objective of AATF is to contribute to the goals stated in the National Rice Development Strategy of doubling yields by 2030.

Through the AHyRA partnership, AATF targets to contribute to increasing rice production in Kenya by more than 10 per cent of farmers adopting and using hybrid rice seeds in the next five years.