Blight resistant GMO potato being tested for Kenya market

Irish potato farmers may soon enjoy high returns if the Government approves the commercialisation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) foods following the successful laboratory engineering of a variety resistant to late blight disease.

International Potato Centre's (CIP) senior biotechnologist Marc Ghislain said trials on varieties, Uganda's Victoria and Désirée from Kenya have been successful.

“We tried GMO and non-GMO Irish potatoes. Both were grown on a piece of land known to host the fungi. The GMO variety remained green and the harvest was plenty. The normal variety did not survive,” he said.

The test was done in western parts of Uganda where farmers are making losses to this fungal disease.

CIP worked in collaboration with National Agricultural Research Organisation's Kachwekano Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute (KZARDI), at Kabale.

The transgenic variety was obtained by picking blight resistant genes from wild relatives of Irish potatoes found in Peru, South America.

The trial was done in June 2015 and harvesting in September the same year.

If the government approves growing of GMO, farmers, mostly in high altitudes where the disease causes losses of more than 50 per cent would benefit greatly.

Irish potato is considered the second staple food for in Kenya.

Low temperatures and dew or rainfall accelerate the fungi spread, attacking leaves, stems and tubers.

It also attacks tomatoes

Late blight on potato is identified by black or brown lesions on leaves and stems that may be small at first and appear water-soaked or have chlorotic borders, but soon expand rapidly and become necrotic. 

As many lesions accumulate, the entire plant can be destroyed in only a few days after the first lesions are observed.

Dr Ghislain said more trials will be done to confirm the results in addition to ensuring compliance to requirements as discussions on lifting the ban on GMOs go on.

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