Finding a lasting solution to rice blast disease in Africa

The Bioscience eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub convened a stakeholder meeting in Arusha, Tanzania to discuss a possible roadmap to combat rice blast disease in Africa. The 22–24 July 2017 meeting was convened in collaboration with the United Republic of Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MALF), the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and Exeter University


The July meeting held under the auspices of the Durable Rice Blast Resistance for Africa project marked the culmination of four years of research by partners from East and West Africa, UK and USA. Rice is steadily becoming a staple food for a large population in Africa, yet its production is outstripped by demand, resulting in net imports. Rice blast disease is one of the major production constraints to rice production in Africa. Between 2013 and 2017, the BecA-ILRI Hub has been collaborating with international and regional partners to develop rice varieties that are resistant to blast disease and enhance rice production in sub-Saharan Africa

Representing the Assistant Director for Plant Health Services in the Tanzania Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries, Grace David emphasized the need to find a solution to rice blast disease, which has been responsible for up to 40 percent yield losses in the country.

Project leader Nick Talbot from The University of Exeter expressed his optimism for the development of a continental surveillance system for rice blast pathogens:

‘The repository we have developed at the BecA-ILRI Hub for isolates of the rice-blast fungus will help in the establishment of a disease surveillance system,’ said Talbot.  ‘Having such a facility will make it easier to monitor outbreaks of rice blast disease so we can identify specific forms of the pathogen. In this way, we can facilitate efficient screening of African rice varieties for blast resistance, and guide future rice breeding programs’' he added.

The BecA-ILRI Hub director Jacob Mignouna stressed the importance of translating the research to impact: ‘We have to ensure that all the research efforts being made to address this challenge eventually get to the farmer,’ he said.

The multidisciplinary team of experts in this project are drawn from national, regional and international research institutions including: AfricaRice, the BecA-ILRI Hub; the University of ArkansasUniversity of Exeter; KALROInternational Rice Research Institute (IRRI); Institut de l’Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles (INERA), Burkina Faso; and the Ohio State University. Their four-year efforts have made very significant progress in breeding for durable resistance against blast in rice varieties that are adapted for Africa, have set the stage for continental surveillance of the disease, and developed a robust collection of resources for outreach and awareness creation.

Five of the most promising genes that confer rice blast resistance to adapted African cultivars have been identified. These are already being included in breeding efforts by national rice breeding programs in Burundi, Kenya and Burkina Faso in activities supported by international rice research centres Africa Rice and IRRI. The bio-bank of different isolates of the rice blast disease-causing fungus established at ILRI in Kenya is facilitating regional monitoring of the blast pathogen population and contributing to efficient screening of African rice varieties for blast resistance. A KALRO-led outreach program connecting to rice farmers in Kenya has allowed the project to tap into existing knowledge and given a better understanding of farmer needs.

In closing the meeting KALRO Director for Crop Systems, Lusike Wasilwa commended the efforts of the project team.

‘Your achievements in this project will go a long way to securing one of the four most important food crops in Kenya,’ said Wasilwa. ‘Based on the current challenges facing the number one crop, maize, rice may become even more significant for food security in Kenya,’ she added.

Talbot attributed the success of the project to the strength of the partnership, highlighting AfricaRice and IRRI's significant expertise in marker-assisted plant breeding which he said had greatly accelerated the breeding efforts.

Also participating in the meeting were representatives from Embu University, Kenya Plant health inspectorate Service and University of Eldoret (Kenya); Chollima AGRO-Scientific Research Center, KATRIN Agricultural Research Center, Kilimanjaro Agricultural Training Center, Lekitatu Irrigation Scheme and Sokoine University of Agriculture (Tanzania); and Gulu University (Uganda).

This collaborative research project was supported by the Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development (SCPRID) initiative grant, funded jointly by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Department of International Development (DFID), and (through a grant awarded to BBSRC) the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.





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  • Guest (SAFTIA KALIB)

    The rice is the one of the favourites foods for the the African people. It is a source of protein and it helps to solutionize the greatest problem of African population wichch is the lack of food security. Thank

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