They have been leaving home since 1967 and while they are scattered across Latin America, they all have something in common: the surname CIAT. These are 377 rice varieties that have been released over the last 50 years and they all carry the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in their ‘blood’.

According to research conducted by CIAT’s Data, Information and Knowledge team, out of 857 rice varieties released in 24 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean since CIAT began, 44% are its offspring.

According to Fernando Correa, leader of CIAT’s Rice Program, there are traits that have remained common over the last 50 years of family history: they are short plants that do not fall when the wind blows, they are high yielding varieties with good quality grains, and they are resistant to tropical pathogens, among other distinctive traits.

But, where does the lineage come from?

A year after CIAT was founded, a new rice variety, IR8, released in the Philippines by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), had accomplished the unimaginable: it prevented death by starvation of thousands of people in Asia. A semi-dwarf, early-maturing, and high-yielding rice variety had made it possible to move from producing 2–3 tons per hectare of paddy rice to an average of 4–6 tons, with a potential yield over 9 tons. It which marked a revolution, the so called ´Green Revolution´.  In November 2016, IRRI celebrated the 50th anniversary of the official release of the rice variety that changed the world.

Peter Jennings, the scientist who led the research work for IR8, looked to Latin America. A hundred kilos of the miracle seed sent from the Philippines was enough for the variety to be disseminated by the Colombian National Federation of Rice Producers (Fedearroz) across Colombia and later throughout the rest of region.

It was then that the rapidly growing CIAT found in Fedearroz and the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA) the best allies to develop new rice varieties from IR8. Varieties Metica 1, Tikal 2, Oryzica 1, Oryzica Llanos 4, Oryzica Llanos 5, Cica 4, 6, 7 and 8, and others began to be sown across the irrigated rice producing area of Colombia, with a 50% increase in the average national yield.

“The release of IR8 enabled rice breeding programs in Latin America, in close collaboration with the Rice Program at CIAT—led in its infancy by Peter Jennings—to evolve and release varieties with a great potential onto the market,” said Correa. This is demonstrated by the 487 varieties released in Latin America with IR8 among their ancestors.

The prodigious parent

The 60s and 70s were just the beginning of the fertile pathway for rice in Latin America. In the first decade of research, ten varieties were released. Then, during the mid-80s and 90s the rice breeding program at CIAT discovered genes, performed crosses, moved forward, selected, and sent material to countries Latin America and the Caribbean, its field of action. The acceptance of varieties was such, that 219 were released in 20 years, all of which were based on relatives or crosses made at CIAT.

In Brazil, the largest rice production zone in Latin America (over 12 million tons) appears as the country that most widely opened its doors to the release of varieties originating from CIAT germplasm: 79 varieties contain the CIAT gene in their DNA, which represents 42% of the seed released in that country. It is followed by Colombia with 59 released varieties; Costa Rica with 30 varieties; Venezuela with 28; and Panama with 24. Meanwhile, in the Caribbean, the presence of varieties with a CIAT ancestor is led by Guyana with 7 varieties, Cuba with 6, and the Dominican Republic with 5 (See graph). The study also estimates that more than 70% of released varieties in Central America are related to CIAT germplasm.

As pointed out in the book ‘Forever Pioneers – CIAT: 50 Years Contributing to a Sustainable Food Future’, the most recent estimate from eight Andean and Central American countries is that 63% of the rice area in those countries is sown to varieties based on CIAT crosses. Likewise, it highlights that over the past 50 years, on-farm rice yields in Latin America have increased at 2.3% annually, above the global average of 1.5%.

Quantity of varieties, CIAT bred, released in LAC

A resistant network

In 1995, the Latin American Fund for Irrigated Rice (FLAR) joined the family. Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, and CIAT, the latter as a strategic partner, brought this network to life with the purpose of improving the competitiveness and sustainability of rice production systems in the region.

CIAT continued its research on rice breeding with a focus on broadening its germplasm genetic base and gene discovery, based on requirements such as tolerance to high temperatures, low solar radiation, drought, and new diseases. As an invaluable legacy, the new lines were passed on to FLAR or national programs to be used in crossings. Over the last 20 years, 76 of the rice varieties that have been released in Latin America originate from CIAT and FLAR.

Beating records

Having Latin American fields sown to “Made in CIAT” rice varieties able to outperform regional mean yields is a source of family pride. This is the case of Peru, where 43% of the released varieties have a genetic combination of CIAT origin. While the average national production is 7.7 tons, exceeding the regional average of 5 tons per hectare, some farmers in coastal areas, such as Piura and Arequipa, get yields of up to 16 tons per hectare – some of the world’s highest.

For Eduardo Graterol, FLAR Executive Director, adopting modern varieties with high performance potential and acceptable levels of resistance to pests and diseases, along with tolerance to environmental stresses, has played a critical role in achieving such production levels.

CIAT’s commitment to the region has focused not only on obtaining new improved varieties, but also in training programs. The fields and laboratories at CIAT have constituted learning scenarios for researchers, technicians, and other outreach workers from public and private organizations.

The Rice Program at CIAT will continue to support different countries in the region. This will involve efforts to strengthen their capacities and establish mechanisms to enhance competitiveness through genetic material (e.g. conducting research on wild species). Through FLAR, it will also involve a renewed focus on  agronomy, since better crop management practices can help reach the genetic potential of improved varieties, as well as the new hybrids being developed by CIAT and FLAR through the Consortium on Hybrid Rice for Latin America (HIAAL).

Certainly, the contribution of the ‘offspring’ of in Latin America over the las 50 years and more recently of FLAR, has been extraordinary. The new rice varieties should increase yield and stress tolerance, but also ensure a grain quality that complies with consumer preference both in domestic markets and lucrative international markets. In addition, technologies to improve producers’ incomes and sustainability must be provided, regardless of the size of their farms.

The research of the Rice Program at CIAT and FLAR and the hundreds of researchers who have contributed to the progress over the las 50 years, as well as the management of their technologies through public-private partnerships, will ensure that the rice produced in our continent continues to be a core component of the family basket, while providing a source of income to help reduce poverty and rural migration, with a smaller environmental footprint than in the past.

On the tracks of CT

It took CIAT’s Data, Information and Knowledge team more than three months to collect the information to determine the number of varieties with a CT (CIAT) origin grown in Latin America and the Caribbean. The team, led by Arturo Franco and Carolina García, turned to databases such as the Breeding Management System (BMS), a software package of the Integrated Breeding Platform (IBP), – a not-for-profit originally born of a CGIAR initiative – which provides access to tool and cutting-edge services to update plant breeding programs around the world.

Through data mining, engineers started deciphering the family tree of rice varieties released in the region. Support from CIAT and FLAR researchers, as well as other international agencies, such as FAO, was also required to solve the puzzle.

“We started noting that the involvement of CIAT genes was becoming increasingly important in varieties registered to have been released in Latin America and the Caribbean. And although there were varieties we could not trace for lack of information, the results show that both IR8 and CIAT varieties have played a leading role in the development of rice in the region,” said Systems Engineer Carolina García.

The BMS instance at CIAT is also being populated with information on released varieties of cassava, beans, and tropical forages. While it is estimated that many of these varieties are also CIAT descendants, no study has been conducted to ascertain how many varieties proudly carry the CIAT surname.

*Currently, a study is being conducted to determine which of the 377 CIAT-origin released varieties have been adopted by farmers in Latin America and the Caribbean, and their economic impact in each country.

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