In Madagascar, rice is both the main crop and the staple food for the local population, with an annual per capita consumption figure of more than 120 kilos.The highlands region is densely populated, and its farmers traditionally growirrigated rice. However, there is no land left to set up new irrigated rice fields. Developing upland rice in the hills ("tanety"), which are generally used for maize, beans, sweet potatoes and cassava or to graze zebus,has thus emerged as a possible way of boosting rice production.
The lack of a sufficiently cold-tolerant upland rice variety that could be grown at heightsof more than 1200 m above sea level, thus led to the establishment, in themid-1980s, of a varietal creation programme for high-altitude upland rice,associating FOFIFA and CIRAD. Since then, more than fifteen cold-tolerant upland rice varieties have been bred and launched on the market, FOFIFA 173 being the latest. These varieties have served to push the threshold for uplandrice growing over 1800 m above sea level.
Thanks tothese varieties, high-altitude upland rice growing has developed very rapidly, particularly in the Vakinankaratra region, along the famous RN7 road between the towns of Antsirabe and Ambatolampy (70 km north), where research and dissemination efforts have been concentrated. Upland rice is now an integralpart of the landscape in the highlands region, and in places, it is even the dominant crop in upland cropping systems.
Varietal creation needs to continue, to support this development and broaden the rangeof available varieties so as to ensure the sustainability of high-altitude upland rice production by taking on board several objectives such as resistance to rice blast fungus, nitrogen uptake efficiency, diversification of grainquality, cold tolerance and adaptation to farming systems developed as part of a conservation agriculture strategy.