By George Munene
Through its Feed the Future global biotech potato partnership in Kenya and Nigeria the International Potato Center (CIP) is developing genetically engineered late blight-resistant potato varieties that will reduce farmer losses by 15 – 30 per cent and slush the current Sh1.8 billion annual cost in fungicides by at least 90%.
In Kenya, late blight causes yield losses ranging from 10 per cent to absolute crop failure.
According to CIP a 35 per cent adoption rate of these resistant potato varieties in Kenya and Nigeria could reduce total disease costs by an average of Sh29.1 billion ($239 million) annually.
“Over the past decades, scientists have discovered resistance (R) genes in the potato’s wild relatives which stop late blight. Three R genes were introduced simultaneously into farmers’ and consumers ‘preferred’ varieties from Kenya and Nigeria. The resulting potato cultivars combine characteristics that the market demands with strong and durable late blight resistance, which can reduce production costs by lowering or eliminating the need for fungicide applications, and reduce farmer exposure to those chemicals, in addition to significant potential benefits from increased yield,” read part of a statement from CIP.
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The project which is funded by USAID and managed by Michigan State University (MSU) will contribute to the development, testing, and deployment of genetically engineered candidate 3Rgene LBR potato varieties in the two countries.
The researchers will analyse the safety of the selected best-performing potato varieties for human health and the environment as well as communicate the benefits of commercialization of these potatoes.
CIP will also oversee the distribution of the potato seed to selected farmers as well as assist in their cultivation and marketing. They will also aid national scientists in developing new generations of these disease-resistant potatoes.
The research organisation will continue research on the identification of the best combination of bacterial wilt-resistant genes for future product development.
Globally, potato late blight causes losses of Sh 818.4 billion ($6.7B) annually.
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Per CIP; Potato is the third most important food crop worldwide, and is the highest yielding staple per acre, producing large amounts of energy-rich carbohydrates in less time and with less water than rice or wheat, as well as vitamin C, potassium, and phenolic compounds. Not being a globally traded commodity, its price is less vulnerable to food price spikes. These attributes make potatoes among the least expensive source of fiber, minerals, and vitamins necessary for good nutrition, which makes it an asset in addressing poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.