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Cuban Rice Variety Bred for Tolerance to Salinity and Rice Mites Stays Relevant in Cuba’s Fields and its Cuisine for almost 20 years

Cuban rice variety bred for tolerance to salinity and rice mites stays relevant in Cuba’s fields and its cuisine for almost 20 years

(Photo: E. Cristo/INCA)

Cuban cooking represents a blend of many cuisines, including Spanish, African, Caribbean and Native American, with one ingredient connecting them all – rice. Rice is the central ingredient of  so many dishes that per capita rice consumption in Cuba is estimated as high as 60 kg a year. That means each person in the country eats more than 1 kg of rice a week. To meet this demand, Cuban farmers dedicate 200,000 ha of land to rice production and, since 1997, an enormous percentage of that rice has been INCA LP-7, a mutant variety developed by Cuba’s National Institute of Agricultural Science (INCA) with support by the Joint FAO/IAEA Division and the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme. INCA LP-7 not only thrives in the Cuban climate, it is tolerant to salinity and resists the panicle rice mites that plague Cuba’s rice fields.

When the mutant rice variety INCA LP-7 was introduced to Cuban farmers in 1997, it was the result of seven  years of development, representing a successful collaboration between the Joint Division, the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme and INCA. The development goal was to breed a high-yielding and saline- tolerant mutant variety that would also be resistant to Steneotarsonemus spinki, a microscopic panicle rice mite that had just appeared in Cuba. Cuba actually was the mite’s first stop in America. Upon arrival in 1990, it first lowered Cuba’s rice yields by between 30 and 60 percent and then spread throughout the Caribbean and Central America.
When introduced, not only was INCA LP-7 the first Cuban variety resistant to the mite, it met all of the other yield and saline tolerance goals, and, above all, it was a variety that Cuban farmers and consumers would accept. Today, it is almost 20 years old, which is quite old in today’s world.

Farmers and researchers constantly seek varieties that are adapted to new or changing environmental conditions, yet INCA LP-7 has stayed at the top of the market all this time – appreciated for taste, but also for its reliable good yield under stress conditions. Until INCA LP-7 was introduced, no rice had ever produced more than 3 tonnes per hectare, but INCA LP-7 yielded 5  to 7 tonnes. It proved to be well adapted to the increased periods of drought currently affecting Cuba as well as the changes in soil due to the intrusion of salty water in coastal areas.