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Milken-Motsepe Prize in AgriTech Finalists: IRRI

Meet the Finalists: IRRI

Pictured (left to right): Baboucarr Manneh and Venuprasad Ramaiah.

Tell us about you/your team.

Venuprasad Ramaiah and Baboucarr Manneh: Our group includes members from two sister organizations, one in Asia and the other in Africa. Our organizations hope to improve the rice value chain in Africa by working together to help countries attain rice self-sufficiency. Our team, in particular, works to improve the livelihoods and climate resilience of rainfed rice farmers who are particularly vulnerable to weather fluctuations. We are moved to see how a single flooding incident can destroy the livelihoods of so many poor African farmers, especially when technologies exist that could give them a fighting chance. We want to introduce these technologies to Africa's most vulnerable rice growers and make it widely available.

What inspired you to participate in the Milken-Motsepe Prize in AgriTech? In addition to competing for the $1 million grand prize, what do you hope to gain from this experience?

The Milken-Motsepe Prize in AgriTech allows us to ensure that our innovation reaches a broader community of farmers in desperate need, giving them a fighting chance against climate change. The award acknowledges that what we do is valued by other like-minded individuals and organizations. The monetary prize will undoubtedly assist us in going the additional mile to reach more farmers across Africa. It also gives us a unique opportunity to meet with investors and persuade them to invest in our innovation and help us reach new levels of impact.

This competition also allows us to meet and interact with other innovators, as well as be inspired by their experiences. We can also further strengthen our business acumen with the online course and mentorship.

How will your concept increase economic value to farmers in Africa?

Our innovation aims to improve the climatic resilience of African rice farmers. Flooding in particular is a severe issue that might result in yield losses.

We have developed novel rice varieties for Africa that can withstand complete submergence for two weeks and produce at least two tons per hectare more than traditional varieties. These varieties were created by marker-assisted gene/quantitative trait locus introgression into farmer-favored cultivars. Even when there are no floods during the season, these varieties yield more than the farmer's varieties. As a result, these novel cultivars improve the food security and revenue of African rice producers.

What sets you apart from other teams in this competition?

We come from agricultural families in Asia and Africa. This has given us a unique perspective on food production and food systems, which we eventually pursued as careers.

As rice scientists, we have seen first-hand the devastating effects of floods on rice production in Africa. We thought: What if there was a better way to reduce the impact? What if there were varieties of rice that could withstand floods and uplift farmers in such a vulnerable continent?

As we brought the Sub1 gene technology to Africa, we realized we needed to develop locally-adapted varieties. For many years, we worked on two innovative flood-tolerant rice varieties that eventually became suitable to Nigeria.

With the success of these varieties, we are confident that we can develop and test more varieties with highly improved flood tolerance that can be grown in different contexts across Africa.