The International Center for Tropical Agriculture


The mission of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT, by its Spanish acronym) is to reduce hunger and poverty, and improve human nutrition in the tropics through research aimed at increasing the eco-efficiency of agriculture. CIAT’s staff includes approximately 200 scientists supported by a wide array of donors - including the CGIAR System. CIAT has a total of 968 staff, including 521 professionals, of whom 376 are scientists. Over 750 are based in Colombia or elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribbean, while 154 are in sub-Saharan Africa, 32 in Asia, 2 in the USA, and 1 in Europe.

CIAT Colombia BDW with LED
Conviron BDW Walk in Room with LED Lighting prior to plant loading.


In 2014 CIAT’s Gloria Mosquera, Plant Pathologist based in Colombia submitted a joint proposal with Colombia’s National Rice Growers Association (Fedearroz, by its Spanish acronym) to address some of the most important issues facing farmers in the region – notably the marked decrease in rice production in Colombia due to grain sterility.

“Grain sterility is the result of a mixture of different factors interfering with grain filling and it has multiple causes”, as explained by Dr. Mosquera. Mosquera adds that when yields decreased in Colombia, many hypotheses were forwarded to explain the cause of the problem “it could be either temperature, the combination of temperature and high humidity, or pathogens; thus it became mandatory to conduct a study to determine what was affecting the rice crop in the different rice-growing areas of Colombia.”

CIAT Columbia BDW with LED
Plant growth chamber with rice crop at CIAT facility grown under LED light | Photo courtesy of CIAT-FLAR

From Field Studies to Growth Chambers

CIAT and Fedearroz joined efforts to submit a research proposal to the Colombian Department of Science, Technology and Innovation (Colciencias, by its Spanish acronym). The proposal was approved in 2014 and is being conducted in three regions where high grain sterility has been reported:

  • the Caribbean (Montería, Department of Córdoba)
  • the Center (Saldaña, Department of Tolima), and
  • the Llanos Orientales (Santa Rosa, Department of Meta)
CIAT Colombia BDW with LED
Members of CIAT Columbia | Photo courtesy of CIAT-FLAR

To complement field studies, a second stage involving controlled conditions was designed. For this purpose, a Conviron BDW120 plant growth chamber was acquired, in which specific climate profiles were created for every stage of development of the crop - vegetative, flowering, and ripening. The temperature, relative humidity, and sunlight profiles corresponding to sowing dates showing the highest and the lowest yields were selected and simulated in the growth chamber.

In addition, the plant growth chamber has other parameters especially adapted to the requirements of this study including:

  • A LED (light-emitting diode) lightning system that does not increase temperature inside the chamber
  • Temperature range from 4 to 40°C (lights off) and 10 to 40°C (lights on)
  • Relative humidity up to 90 % (lights off) and 75 % (lights on)
Alexandra Peña, Research Assistant in Rice Physiology at CIAT | Photo courtesy of CIAT-FLAR
Alexandra Peña, Research Assistant in Rice Physiology at CIAT | Photo courtesy of CIAT-FLAR

Alexandra Peña, Research Assistant in Rice Physiology at CIAT adds “our aim is to validate the performance of the genotypes under evaluation in the three different regions and identify limiting biotic and abiotic factors that can affect the final yield of varieties.”

Although it is too soon to talk about results, it is expected that this study will find a rice genotype that adapts better to the climate conditions of each region. “What we can be assured of is that the growth chamber was ideal to reproduce bacterial symptoms associated with grain sterility. Therefore, the conditions to simulate desired stress were very good,” says Peña.

The Future

The research team is also contemplating future uses for the growth chamber. “Initially, rice limitations in Colombia should be a priority, but this infrastructure could be used to evaluate how different varieties from different regions of Latin America respond to a specific stress,” says Mosquera.

Gloria Mosquera, Plant Pathologist, CIAT | Photo courtesy of CIAT-FLAR
Gloria Mosquera, Plant Pathologist, CIAT | Photo courtesy of CIAT-FLAR

After a chamber maintenance and disinfection stage, a new trial will start. The next time the research team will set rice assays with the environmental conditions of the Tolima lowlands, perhaps the Llanos Orientales and ultimately those of virtually any region in the world.

Source: Reproduced with permission from Latin American Fund for Irrigated Rice (FLAR). Content and photos adapted from original story at