Rwanda is set to join other Eastern Africa countries in growing genetically modified (GM) potato varieties, a technology that has, in the past, attracted wide-ranging public scrutiny in the country.
Dr. Patrick Karangwa, the Director General of the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), told participants at the African Potato Association (APA) in Kigali that the country will try a potato variety called Victoria because it has proven to be resistant to late blight, a destructive potato disease locally known as ‘Imvura’.
The potato variety has been developed by the International Potato Centre (CIP), Karangwa said.
“That disease-resistant potato variety which was developed through genetic modification has many benefits to the farmers because it cuts the costs that they were incurring on pesticide sprays. In addition, it will reduce harmful effects that the pesticides were causing to environment,” he said.
Experts say that adopting genetically modified crops would help boost output and cushion farmers against losses stemming from diseases.
Eric Magembe, CIP’s Sub-Saharan Africa Molecular Biologist, says that genetically modified potatoes can produce about 40 tonnes per hectare, compared to about 10 to 12 tonnes for the conventional variety though the later also requires spraying.
CIP says that late blight cost developing countries an estimated $10 billion in lost revues through reduced yields.
Karangwa said that although the technology remains controversial in many African countries, including in Rwanda, there are clear health and economic benefits.