IAEA Helps Zanzibar to Improve Rice Varieties

Published: 15 July 2014

In Zanzibar agriculture is the main source of income for around 70 percent of the population. Rice is the most common crop and it is the most popular food staple on this Tanzanian island. The demand for the grain is so high that Zanzibar needs to import 80 percent of the rice that is consumed. According to local agricultural experts, Zanzibar could grow more. One way to increase production is to improve varieties. The new rice variety, SUPA BC, was released in 2011. SUPA BC was developed at the Kizimbani Agricultural Research Institute. The project was conducted with the support of the IAEA's Technical Cooperation programme and via the Agency's partnership with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It was created with the support of the FAO/IAEA's laboratories in Seibersdorf, Austria, using a nuclear technique known as radiation induced mutation. This technique, which dates back to the late 1920s, uses radiation to bring about beneficial changes in crops. The radiation speeds up a natural process that could take millions of years. The irradiated rice seeds were planted in Zanzibar and after eight years the breeders selected the best mutant line. Many farmers are now using SUPA BC seeds because the variety has a high yield. SUPA BC has more tillers, which are grain bearing branches, than other rice types and the yield is up to seven tonnes per hectare, compared to the four tonnes the farmers get from other varieties. It also adapts well to fertilizer and its short height makes it easier to cultivate. Farmers can now grow enough for their own needs and sell the rest. It has become very popular among consumers who mix it with ground coconut or cassava leaves. It can take over an hour to cook over a fire, but it tastes good and has a pleasant aroma. Zanzibar may be famous for its sandy beaches and Stone Town, the picturesque and historic centre of its capital city. But there is a side to this tropical island that the tourists do not get to see.  Most people live simple lives in traditional villages, depending on subsistence farming. There is the daily trek to get water. Food shortages are commonplace and it is estimated that around half of the population lives below the poverty line. By increasing the local production of rice through improved and new varieties, Zanzibar can reduce its dependence on imports, save money and create more jobs. <br /><br />© IAEA