Compared to cultivated rice, perennial rice can reduce production costs by over 50%, says Dr Lui Huan, a leading scientist studying ways to enhance yields of key crops across the African continent.
Huan says the reach for perennial rice planting now includes 18 different countries, including Uganda and Ethiopia. He is the chief scientist at China’s BGI Group, a well-known genome sequencing technology provider and manufacturer of some of the world’s most cost-effective and accurate genomics equipment.
Traditional rice cultivation, explains, Huan, consists of six processes. This is buying seeds, raising seedlings, ploughing, transplanting, field management and harvesting. With perennial rice, however, the farmers skips the first four stages and simply concentrate their efforts on field management and harvesting.
“Growing perennial rice not only greatly reduces production costs, but also eliminates the need to plough the field for years, reducing labour, fertilizer and pesticide inputs and enhancing the natural properties of the soil,” says Huan.
The UN Climate Technology Centre and Network describes perennial rice as rice that can be harvested many years without reseeding due to the regeneration of rhizome. It is “a green and sustainable agricultural technology” with many benefits for farmers and rice production.
According to the European Journal of Agronomy, a 2021 study also found that perennial rice was an economic and environmental cropping system which was able to produce a stable and sustainable grain yield over successive seasons across years.
Currently, Nigeria, Côte D’lvoire, Madagascar, Mali and Tanzania are the major producers of rice in Africa. According to ITC trade statistics, African rice imports accounted for $23 million in 2019 with Côte D’lvoire, Benin and South Africa being the main importers.
Huan explains that perennial rice incorporates African wild rice genes, which enhances its stress tolerance. This is critically important given the FAO’s warning that an estimated 670 million people are projected to be undernourished in 2030.
In search of a greener and more efficient crop
“Compared to cultivated rice, perennial rice can reduce production input costs by more than 50%,” says Huan. “Farmers are potentially looking at $11.40 to $13.70 savings per acre based on labour costs in Yunnan, China, for example.”
China has 65.9 million acres of land dedicated to rice farming. Therefore, the theoretical social and economic value of these savings with two crops per year in this country is estimated at $1.5 billion.
Perennial rice also has higher yield and quality. In terms of yield, in Yunnan, the yield reaches 164 kilograms, compared to China’s average of 75 kilograms per acre.
“BGI’s perennial rice is well-placed to adapt to African conditions as it incorporates Oryza longistaminata wild rice genes from Africa, which enhances stress tolerance,” adds Huan. “The Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Uganda have collaborated with BGI to conduct research trials. This trial achieved a single-season yield of nearly 82 kilograms per acre.”
Researchers agree that perennial rice can produce high yields with less intensive field management. Further adoption is potentially of great importance to the food supply of African countries.
Huan notes that BGI is ready to share technology and to nurture a team of modern technological agricultural talent in Africa. “Working with local partners, BGI looks forward to developing perennial rice varieties that are more suited for African cultivation and more disease-resistant, to further raise farmers’ incomes.”