Arcadia Biosciences Inc., an agricultural technology company focused on developing technologies and products that benefit the environment and human health, and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) announced the planting of the first field trial of Nitrogen Use Efficient (NUE) rice in Africa. The NUE rice field trial is the result of more than five years of collaboration between Arcadia, the AATF, and African researchers in more than three countries, working with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other organizations under the Feed the Future initiative to help bolster food security in Africa.
The multi-organizational effort leverages the experience of leading African agricultural research organizations as well as technical expertise and a royalty-free license from Arcadia Biosciences to develop and test new rice lines. The NUE field trials are being conducted in Ghana by the Crop Research Institute (CRI) and in Uganda by the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO). The Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture (PIPRA) provided access to enabling technologies, and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia conducted preliminary field evaluations of the most promising varieties.
Rice is one of the most cultivated and important African food crops. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) produce about 20 million metric tons of rice annually, yet the continent imports 9 million metric tons, which is valued at $4 billion. Most of Africa’s rice is produced and consumed by small-scale farmers who are often constrained by challenging environmental conditions, such as nutrient-deficient soil, drought and salinity.
Soil nitrogen deficiencies in particular affect approximately 90 percent of African land used to grow rice and other crops. Access to rice varieties that make better use of available nitrogen in soil and respond more effectively to small amounts of fertilizer can help alleviate these agricultural pressures on African farmers and can minimize the continent’s dependency on food imports. Additionally, Arcadia’s NUE technology can decrease greenhouse gas emissions that result from the use of nitrogen fertilizer.
“This year’s rice trials in Uganda and Ghana are a significant milestone for the project, advancing the prospect of improved rice varieties that will address the constraints of nitrogen deficiency, drought and salinity in rice production for smallholder farmers,” said Dr. Denis Kyetere, executive director of AATF.
“Donating our technical expertise and key technologies in specific crops to the developing world to improve food security has always been part of our founding philosophy. Our long-standing partnership with AATF has yielded exciting results and moved some of our important technologies, like NUE, closer to the growers who need them,” said Eric Rey, president and CEO of Arcadia. “These first test plantings in Ghana and Uganda are an important step in our efforts to help alleviate the challenges of feeding a growing population with technologies that are both environmentally responsible and economically sustainable.”
The African NUE field trials are part of the larger NEWEST Rice project that Arcadia is working on with the AATF and USAID. NEWEST Rice is a triple-gene stack rice variety that combines nitrogen use efficiency with water efficiency and saline tolerance, helping farmers maintain productivity under variable conditions. Field trials for the NEWEST lines are expected to begin by the end of this year.