Researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and AfricaRice in Benin studied 26 varieties of rice developed and cultivated locally by farmers in five West African countries between 2006 and 2012. They were varieties of both African rice (Oryza glaberrima) and Asian rice (Oryza sativa).
- Previously, local rice varieties were thought to be unable to adapt — making them useful only in local conditions
- New research suggests that they are in fact hardy and adaptable
- The researchers suggest they should be disseminated and used alongside improved varieties
Their findings suggest that farmer rice varieties can grow without fertilisers, require no special maintenance and can develop ways of coping with stress. This makes them highly adaptable to a wide range of environments.
An additional benefit of the varieties, say the researchers, is that they produce higher and sometimes superior yields to imported varieties — around 660 kilograms per hectare from upland, lowland and irrigated rice farms.
“Farmer varieties adapt better to unfavorable conditions than improved varieties,” says study author Béla Teeken, a researcher in the Technology and Agrarian Development group at Wageningen University.
“Because of the long trajectories of selection by farmers in dynamic conditions — [both] ecological and social (climate change, political isolation and war and other insurgencies) — these conditions have been ‘inscribed’ into these varieties and therefore they are better adapted to unfavorable conditions,” he says.
Florent Okry, regional coordinator for West and Central Africa at Access Agriculture, and another author of the study, tells SciDev.Net that farmer rice varieties should now be considered for wider distribution across Africa, though not at the cost of improved varieties, which should remain available despite their need for expensive fertilisers and insecticides.