NARES-IRRI breeding network’s Annual Joint Advancement Meeting strengthens rice sector collaboration in East and Southern Africa

(DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, 4 September 2023)- The National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems (NARES) - International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) breeding network organized an Annual Joint Advancement Meeting for East and Southern Africa (ESA) on 28-30 August in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, in a strategic effort to strengthen the rice sector across the region.

The three-day Joint Advancement Meeting brought together experts, researchers, and stakeholders from the rice breeding and seed systems community to discuss and collaborate on advancing rice breeding programs and improving seed systems in the region. Over 100 participants (in person and online), with about 75 present in-person, attended the meeting including representatives from Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture, Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI), Tanzania Seed Traders Association (TASTA), Alliance Biodiversity and CIAT, AfricaRice, and NARES partners from 11 countries in the ESA region.

Honorable Gerald Mweri, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture of the United Republic of Tanzania, commenced the meeting and highlighted the pivotal role of rice as a staple food and livelihood for smallholder farmers. With the nation's aspiration to enhance productivity through research and extension services, Hon. Mweri emphasized the critical and successful partnership between IRRI and Tanzania. “A resounding 50% of rice varieties released stemmed from this alliance, resonating with the nation's Agenda 10/30 objectives,” he stated.

Dr. Geoffrey Mkamilo, Director General of the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), Dr. Abdelbagi Ismail, IRRI Regional Director for Africa, and Dr. Hans Bhardwaj, Research Director of IRRI’s Rice Breeding Innovations, led the event's proceedings.

The meeting included plenary sessions where the NARES partners presented country updates on the rice sector, including NARES- IRRI network breeding trial data and opportunities from their respective countries. Presentations were made by representatives from Tanzania/Zanzibar, Kenya, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Malawi, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These updates provided valuable insights into the progress and challenges faced in each country's rice breeding programs and also provided context for advancing relevant rice breeding lines in those countries.

The three-day meeting also included significant discussions led by IRRI scientists on the modernization of breeding programs, trait deployment to manage biotic and abiotic stresses, rice pathology, seed systems, and regional strategies to address emerging challenges in the rice sector in East and Southern Africa.

Updates on the global OneRice breeding strategy, direct-seeded rice (DSR) technology and market segmentation, product concepts, and gendered approaches in product development were also discussed.

The NARES-IRRI advancement meeting also witnessed the launch of a digital seed demand/supply management tool called SeedCast, developed by IRRI in consultation with various seed chain stakeholders in Tanzania. The SeedCast was officially launched by Dr. Patrick Ngwediagi, the Director General of TOSCI, in the presence of TARI DG’s nominee, Dr. Dennis Tippe. Hon. DG, TOSCI accepted to host SeedCast in the Tanzania national system through TOSCI.

The meeting concluded with a capacity-building event where selected breeders participated in a training program on accelerated breeding modernization. The program covered topics such as breeding and operational excellence, new parent selection strategies, speed breeding, smart breeding tools and technologies, and global breeding trials.

The NARES-IRRI Joint Advancement Meeting in ESA proved to be a fruitful platform for collaboration, knowledge sharing, and planning for the advancement of rice breeding programs and seed systems in the region. Several cross-cutting multi-national NARES-IRRI committees were formed, to be led by NARES partners (leaders have been nominated), for continued learning and effective delivery. The outcomes of the meeting are expected to contribute significantly to the development of sustainable and high-impact rice breeding initiatives in the region.

These NARES-IRRI network partnerships, capacity building, and knowledge exchange in the rice sector in ESA, which are being supported by BMGF-funded AGGRi, OneCGIAR Seed Equal, and OneCGIAR Accelerated Breeding initiatives, are paving the way to increased rice production through strengthening the rice sector. It aims to ultimately contribute to food, income, and nutrition security in Africa.