Go for hybrid seeds, rice farmers told

African Agricultural Technology Foundation(AATF) Project Manager Rice Dr Kayode Sanni during an interview at Ahero Irrigation Scheme in Kisumu County. Courtesy: ELIZABETH OJINA/NATION.

Despite the hybrid technology, local rice farmers still use saved seeds for the next planting season.  African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) Project Manager Kayode Sanni talks about how technology has revolutionized farming in Asia.

What advantages do hybrid rice seeds have over saved ones?

Hybrid rice technology focuses on yield advantage and desirable grain quality that comes about due to heterosis (combining the ability of the parental lines). It gives farmers a yield advantage of up to three tonnes a hectare. The technology has the potential of creating a sustainable rice seed business and system.

The rise in yield by switching to hybrids is about 40 percent increased income. The technology can provide an avenue for African rice farmers to raise yields and profitability. It can play a central role in feeding the growing population. Hybrid rice seed production can be profitable. It is already attracting investments. It can thus be lucrative for seed companies and create employment. Hybrid rice developed in Africa is capable of tolerating most of the biotic and abiotic stresses.

The goal of most African countries is to be self-sufficient in rice production. Hybrid rice could help achieve this goal.

What are the challenges of using hybrid or saved seeds?

Like any other new initiative, it is not without challenges. Rice farmers are accustomed to saved seeds, leading to lack of interest in seed companies. There is need to create awareness on hybrid rice benefits. The hybrid seed has to be bought every time one plants. This could be constraining for starting smallholder farmers who may not have the money. Availability of seeds is also a challenge as many companies still work on order deliveries, hence farmers have to wait for long periods before getting what was ordered. Knowledge on hybrid technology is limited.

Rice demand in Kenya exceeds production. That calls for imports. What can we do to increase yields?

Rice self-sufficiency and food security cannot be a one-person show. There is a need for concerted efforts among stakeholders in the value chain. There is also need for political goodwill in endorsing and promoting rice production. More than 80 percent of consumption is imported, meaning the government needs to create an enabling market for local producers. We should maintain an import duty that will not demotivate local growers. We must also have a strong public-private partnership along the rice value chain. In addition, there is the need to streamline the market. The land under rice should also be expanded.

Tanzania seems to be heading in the self-sufficiency direction. What can we learn from our southern neighbour?

Tanzania has strong political will and commitment in terms of policies, strategies and institutions. This is one area our government struggle with, regardless of rice promotion programmes. Land under rice cultivation in Tanzania is state-owned. That means farmers do not have to lease land. Tanzania has huge growing areas for rice, even though the country’s average production per unit area is still low compared to Kenya. Kenya needs to continue expanding rice-growing in untapped regions. Inputs must also be subsidised.

Where can farmers get hybrid rice varieties?

Depending on the hybrid one wants, the seeds can be sourced from Afritech SeedCo, Bayer/Proceed, Advanta or through the Alliance for Hybrid Rice in Africa(AHyRA) being led by AATF in cases where the farmer cannot reach any of the companies. To prevent fakes and adulteration, the AATF encourages seed merchants/stockists interested in selling rice hybrids to register as members of AHyRA

Hybrid rice technology revolutionised rice production in Asia. Why isn’t the technology not taking root in Africa?

For long, farmers have planted inbred rice, reusing grain as seed over and over. There is a perception in Africa that hybrid rice seeds are expensive. However, with the seeing-is-believing approach that AATF has used in growing hubs, farmers have hyped their interest in hybrids. They have realised up to two-fold yield advantage over inbreeds, resulting in increased demand for hybrid seeds.

Due to the self-pollinating nature of rice, there have been market dysfunctions and failures for companies in sell certified seed. In order to create a structured market for seed companies, AATF has brought together the players in rice systems through “Island of Trust”, which relies on public- and private-sector partners to sponsor adaptation trials of hybrid products.

There is need for training among farmers and other stakeholders. One key cause of the rice hybrid market failure is lack of information. Information drives decision-making in marketing. When farmers know very little about quality, performance and general characteristics of rice hybrids, they don’t buy the seeds. There is a need for development programmes to identify cases where the process of farmer training and market priming for rice hybrids has begun and to build upon the “islands of trust”.

This article was originally published by the Daily Nation and written by Elizabeth Ojina. (eojina@ke.nationmedia.com)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *