The launch of the project was on the sideline of the just-concluded three-day 11th East and Southern Africa Breeding Network meeting held here.
Speaking soon after launching the initiative, representative of International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) for Eastern and Southern Africa, Abdelbagi Ismail said that the beneficiaries will be unified by a set of standards developed to make breeding decisions consistent with the demand of regional farmers, consumers and processors.
Funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the initiative is also aimed at expanding International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)'s variety testing network into a globally aligned, modernized, rice breeding 'community’ of practice'.
In another development, IRRI's targets over the next three years will be to support Tanzania in achieving rice self-sufficient and becoming an exporter of the commodity in the region.
The number and diversity of IRRI staff deployed in the country will at least double; rice production technologies that increase yield by at least 0.5 tonnes per hector will be delivered and adopted by farmers in pilot sites; and farmers, extension staff, seed technicians and researchers will be trained in various aspects of rice research.
He, however urged rice growers to embrace modern farming methods to increase production per acreage hence improve the country’s food security.
He said that reports have it that most rice growers have been growing using traditional methods, with no application of fertilizer and use of archaic farming tools, ending up getting little.
“It is high time for farmers in the region to venture into the effective use of improved seeds and agricultural inputs to increase productivity,” he said.
Dr Hans Bhardwaj, plant breeding management leader at IRRI suggested the need for Africa to stop importing rice from outside the continent and instead increase production locally.
“Experts and decision makers should encourage farmers to venture into growing improved seeds and use modern farming practices.”
The meeting involved a number of stakeholders and rice breeders from eastern and southern countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, and Mozambique.