Japanese and Filipino scientists have teamed up to address the problem of food security by developing new rice varieties that are both high yielding and disease-resistant.
Under the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) rice research project called “Wonder Rice Initiative for Food Security and Health [WISH],” the scientists aim to transfer disease resistance and high-yielding traits to existing rice varieties in Africa and the Philippines.
“The project shows plenty of promise in supporting JICA’s integrated program to boost rice production and address food shortage in developing countries,” said Dr. Motoyuki Ashikari, rice expert and professor from Nagoya University.
Ashikari said they expect to complete the project by 2015.
For the project, scientists and research teams from JICA, Japan’s Nagoya University, and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, Laguna use conventional cross-breeding, a rice improvement technique where desired traits (grain number, branching number for every panicle or cluster of rice flowers, panicle and grain size) from specific rice varieties are marked for transfer to recipient varieties.
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.
The technique recovers 93.75 percent of the background of the recipient rice varieties. This, in turn, results in better rice varieties.
Ashikari, who had been collaborating with local scientists in IRRI for the project, explained that the goal is to come up with at least 200 lines of new varieties of rice by the end of the project. They are also developing other location-specific breeding techniques that other countries like Kenya and Mali in Africa can adopt.
While saying that production of the new rice variety takes time, Ashikari mentioned that the Philippines proved to be a viable location for the research.
“The Philippines’ climate, available facilities and scientists, and long history in rice production are beneficial to the research process. Japanese researchers from Nagoya University can easily communicate with Filipino scientists using the English language, and response is easier because of the time difference between Japan and the Philippines,” he explained.
The first two crosses of rice varieties are done in Nagoya University, and samples are then sent to IRRI for backcrossing to ensure that recipient rice varieties successfully acquire the traits from donor varieties.
By 2015, the new rice variety under WISH will be propagated and distributed to other parts of the world including Africa where rice shortage looms.
G8 leaders, a grouping of the world’s most industrialized countries, have already raised the food crisis issue in Africa in their summit agenda in 2013.
Back in 2008, JICA launched the Coalition for Africa Rice Development, a consultative group of bilateral donors and international and regional organizations, with the goal of doubling rice production in Africa to 28 million tons per annum by 2018. It has since partnered with IRRI and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice).
IRRI was a participant in the so-called Asian miracle in the 1960s when rice research and technology helped address massive starvation in poor countries. Philrice, meanwhile, was a recipient of JICA’s development assistance through financial aid and technical training in the 1980s. The latter has been helping transfer said knowledge to African farmers through another JICA extension training program.
JICA is an agency of the government of Japan responsible for implementing the technical cooperation, grant aid and yen loan programs of Japan’s Official Development Assistance to developing countries such as the Philippines.
JICA is the world’s largest bilateral aid agency with about $10.3 billion in financial resources and a network of more than 100 overseas offices around the world.