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Research to aid develop six new rice varieties in Indonesia

By 2017, Indonesia may see six more rice varieties grown in the country as a result of an US$800,000 research project funded by Temasek Foundation, an Asia investment firm headquartered in Singapore

It has been six years since the research collaboration started, the firm added. The training phase and single location field trials were over.

Researchers would now focus on the multi-location field trials, expected to be completed in 2017 and the results of the trials would then be submitted to the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development. Once the new rice varieties were approved, the seeds could then be distributed to farmers for mass production, Channel News Asia reported.

In the northern province of Aceh, large areas of rice fields became unsuitable for farming for many years after being flooded by salt water due to tsunami from the Indian Ocean 10 years ago. The project hoped to develop new rice types and increase rice production in the region.

Nasir, a farmer at Aceh, participated in the rice project by setting aside a small plot of land for field trials in July this year. The results were encouraging, and even attracted the attention of neighbouring farmers. Nasir said, “Many have asked for the seeds from me, they also want to try. I told them, ‘not yet, be patient, it’s not time yet’.”

On 26 December 2004, tsunami ravaged more than five kilometres inland, destroying about 20,000 hectares of farmland in the region.

In 2008, Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory partnered Syiah Kuala University to build capabilities in rice research. Under the four-year collaboration, researchers developed new and improved rice varieties.

Two Acehnese rice — Siputih and Cantik Manis — were used in the project. The local rice has good quality grain, but low yields and have been susceptible to diseases. Through the project, researchers improved the rice varieties using marker-assisted selection (MAS).

The process selected rice genes which have desired traits, for example, genes that can control higher yields and are more tolerant of diseases. These genes are then combined with those from the local rice varieties, and the outcome is a new rice variety that is superior.

Zhongchao Yin, senior principal investigator at Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory, said, “One of the local Acehnese rice lines is Siputih and the grain quantity is quite good. As good as Thai fragrant rice but the yield is very low — about two tonnes per hectare. But our improved line, through the field trials, can achieve six to seven tonnes per hectare.

“It takes about seven months to harvest but for the improved line we can harvest it around four to four-and-half months.”

The new rice lines are then sown at one location as part of field trials and the results monitored. In the next phase, they would be tested in several locations. The multiple location field trials have to be conducted in at least three provinces across Indonesia. The Aceh rice project researchers are looking at North Sumatra, Riau and Central Java. These provinces are the rice producing areas in the country.

Sabaruddin Zakaria at Syiah Kuala University’s department of agrotechnology, said, “The Indonesian government gives great attention to improve the field of molecular biology, but Indonesia also has a very big area, and we have almost more than 100 national universities. So, it’s not easy for the government to provide equipment. We have received grants two times — in 2009 and 2010 — but not complete yet, so we cannot run the equipment properly yet.”

Indonesia is among the top five rice-producing countries in the world. Nearly 70mn tonnes are expected to be produced this year. However, Aceh is not a major rice-producing province, contributing close to only two million tonnes.