Rice (Oryza sativa) is the most important food grain in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), supplying poor consumers in particular with more calories than any other staple crop. In this rapidly urbanizing region, rice’s strong appeal derives from its convenience and many dietary virtues.
Multidisciplinary rice research is helping make the region’s rice sector more eco-efficient i.e., productive and competitive as well as resilient and sustainable so that it is now poised to contribute even more importantly to regional as well as global food security.
Regional Rice Improvement with Potential Global Payoffs
CIAT’s Rice Program has contributed to the development of about 60% of the 400 improved varieties released by countries in LAC so far. The Center’s conventional breeding and recurrent selection have resulted in new generations of improved rice that are well suited to the region’s diverse rice-growing environments and predominant practices, giving high yields while also showing excellent grain quality and resistance to diseases and pests. In recent years, Center breeders have also developed lines of nutritionally enriched rice containing high levels of two key micronutrients iron and zinc.
A major challenge for global rice research is to boost the crop’s yield potential, which has risen slowly in recent years, even as demand for the world’s most important grain has continued to expand. CIAT research contributes to yield improvement in several ways. One centers on the introgression of alleles from wild species related to rice into the cultivated crop, while another involves breeding for a long-panicle rice “ideotype”.
Through the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP), CIAT and other partners have recently embarked on a more concerted effort to raise yield potential through various approaches, including exploitation of heterosis, gene pyramiding, association mapping, and ideotype modeling.
To help protect rice yields, CIAT scientists are developing resistance or tolerance to various biotic and abiotic stresses. For example, through selection in a disease hotspot, researchers have developed several varieties with stable resistant to rice blast, the single most damaging pathogen of the crop. In addition, several screening methodologies have been devised for development of resistance to the virus and vector responsible for Rice Hoja Blanca Virus. Researchers are selecting for other key traits as well, like drought tolerance, in South America’s savannas ecosystem.
Rice improvement at CIAT makes extensive use of various biotechnology approaches. Center scientists have developed several genomic tools for gene discovery as well as methods of marker-assisted selection (MAS) for resistance to hoja blanca virus, rice blast, and the rice planthopper and tolerance to cold temperatures. In connection with that work, Center researchers employ DNA fingerprinting methods for variety identification as well as for genetic and phenotypic characterization of pathogen populations.
In addition, CIAT employs advanced genotyping and phenotyping techniques to study the transgenesis of rice lines for resistance to hoja blanca virus and sheath blight, drought tolerance, and water- and nutrient-use efficiency. With the use of a transformation platform established for the development of genetically modified rice, several combinations of genes and promoters are being tested in controlled environments and in the field for drought tolerance and nitrogen-use efficiency.
CIAT’s Rice Program works in partnership with a wide range of national and international organizations, with strong emphasis on capacity strengthening.
Within the LAC region, much of this collaboration centers on the Latin American Fund for Irrigated Rice (FLAR). This is a voluntary consortium of more than 30 public and private sector organizations in 17 countries, dedicated to developing new technology for sustainable rice production. Members shape FLAR’s research agenda and provide funds for the development of technologies that satisfy shared demands.
Since FLAR’s establishment in 1995, it has built up an impressive record of technological achievement, developing more than 40 improved varieties that offer high yields with excellent grain quality and disease resistance. FLAR has also laid the foundations for an agronomic revolution, focused on closing yield gaps to increase average rice yields by as much as 2 tons per hectare.
CGIAR Research Programs
CIAT’s rice research in Latin America and the Caribbean contributes importantly to one of the CGIAR Research Programs, that dealing with rice and known as the: