By George Munene
The International Potato Center (CIP) has released CIP-Matilde a potato variety highly resistant to late blight disease responsible for the historic Irish Potato Famine and an estimated Sh1.7 trillion (USD 14 billion) in potato crop destruction annually.
The variety which was grown in Peru and whose planting materials have been sent to Kenya was a result of breeding potatoes with characteristics that consumers want with their wild relatives with the ability to cope with diseases and climate extremes.
CIP has shared breeding materials from the same group as Matilde with research institutions in Kenya to grow and assess them for release as varieties, or use in national potato breeding programs.
Most farmers control late blight by spraying fungicides on their fields, but for smallholders in developing countries, the cost of those agrochemicals can be prohibitive, and they present risks for the environment and farming families.
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“Late blight is a major concern of farmers in Africa’s main potato-growing countries, who spend a significant part of their earnings on agrochemicals to control the disease or risk losing their crop,” said potato breeder Thiago Mendes, who manages the BOLD potato project at CIP. He explained that while evaluating and sharing disease-resistant potatoes with breeding programs in several African countries, CIP is building capacity and raising awareness among scientists about the value of incorporating potatoes’ wild relatives in breeding.
By transferring ‘wild’ attributes into cultivated potatoes through conventional breeding, and working with farmers to select the best ones, CIP is developing potatoes with great potential to improve the food security, income, and well-being of rural families.
“Late blight is a big problem in my area. I usually harvest 70 to 80 sacks of potatoes, but if late blight attacks my field, I may harvest half that much,” said Mariluz Cárdenas, who lives in Huancayo province of Peru. “Matilde is an excellent potato because it isn’t affected by late blight, so we harvest more and don’t have to spend much on agrochemicals.”
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CIP-Matilde was developed in collaboration with Peruvian farmers with support from the Crop Trust, an international organisation working to conserve and use crop diversity and thereby protect global food and nutrition security.
“Farmers around the world are facing increasing uncertainty from the effects of climate change,” said Benjamin Kilian, Project Coordinator, and Senior Scientist at the Crop Trust. “Pathogens, pests, and weeds can cause major crop losses, particularly in the developing world. By adapting our agriculture to these threats – and using the diversity of wild potato relatives to do so – we can help ensure a food-secure future.”
Photo Courtesy: J. Huanai/Yanapai