Morogoro. Tanzania has embarked on implementing an ambitious project to acknowledge and purify the landrace rice seeds in the country.
The country’s pilot project to purify the local rice seeds at the Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute (TARI), in its Morogoro-based Dakawa centre, covers at least four acres, attracting 25 diverse seeds from 54 landraces collected.
Dr William Titus, the Plant Breeder and Coordinator of Research and Innovation at TARI Dakawa Centre, told The Chanzo that the timely initiative focused on elevating quality and availability from reputable sources of local rice seeds for farmers across Tanzania.
In an interview, Dr Titus explained that although currently standing at the helm of the East and Central Africa (EAC)’s rice production sector, Tanzania was grappling with numerous challenges in the rice seed sub-sector.
“Most of the rice growers in Tanzania are yet to adopt the improved rice seeds as they prefer landrace seeds, which are unproductive and have not been registered in the country’s formal seed system,” he expressed.
The rice pundit added that despite comprising essential genes, the landrace seeds are not responding well to fertilisers and irrigation, exacerbating poor yields among the farmers.
“The project aims to improve the availability of landrace rice seeds for breeding and varietal improvement purposes,” he said, adding that the government has rolled out Sh30 million as a starting package to support the initiative.
Dr Titus said the 54 landraces being purified throughout the project were collected from different rice-growing regions, including Morogoro, Mbeya, Mwanza, Shinyanga, Tabora, Simiyu and Kigoma. Others are Iringa, Manyara, Kilimanjaro, Katavi, Coastal region, Arusha and Rukwa.
Barnabas Sitta, the Plant Breeder at TARI- Dakawa Centre, said the general vision of the project, among others, was to take some of the potential genes from the landraces and infuse them into other breeding lines.
“Apart from facilitating access to landrace rice seeds, the project eyes to enable the local rice growers to qualify and benefit from the world rice market,” he said, adding that at the world market, the rice grains are usually tested through genetic fingerprinting, the challenging screening towards the local farmers.
“Majority of the local farmers are often applying a mixture of informal landrace seeds in their plantations to the bad tune that they are being disqualified from trading in the potential global markets,” Sitta observed.
In efforts to heighten the performance of the rice sector in Tanzania, TARI Dakawa has so far innovated and introduced to the farmers the best rice variety, the TXD306, popularly known as ‘SARO 5.’
TARI Dakawa’s research assistant, Ngabo Pamba, said farmers’ crowd-puller variety was abundant in all irrigated and rainfed lowland rice agroecologies nationwide.
“The variety has the maturity duration of between 120 and 125 days and plant height of around 95 to 100 centimetres, whereby the yielding capacity is between 7 and 8.5 tons per hectare,” he detailed.
Since 2010, Tanzania has been serving as the Eastern Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme’s (EAAPP) regional hub for rice production, the project which has so far played a meaningful role in improving the sector’s thriving in the country.
In other strategies to have Tanzania’s rice sector reach new heights, the Dakawa Centre has also adopted the world’s fast breeding method to get fixed lines.
Known as the Rapid Generation Advance Technology (RGA) system, the modern breeding method has been introduced in the country for the maiden time by TARI in its Morogoro-based Dakawa centre.
RGA is a breeding approach that uses single seed descent (SSD) as the breeding method in a small screen house or glasshouse space.
Using RGA could save a lot of valuable land space ( around 90 per cent) and shorten the period for developing breeding lines by at least two or three years compared to the pedigree method.
Valentine Oforo is a freelance journalist based in Dodoma, Tanzania. He is available at email@example.com.