This article was written by Tadessa Daba, Director, Agricultural Biotechnology Research Directorate, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research. Potato News Today republishes it here with thanks. The original article can be found on The Conversation website here.
Imagine being a potato farmer in Ethiopia, Kenya or Nigeria. On a small piece of land, which you depend on for food and income, you have spent months planting, weeding and watering. Up to twice a week, you manually spray your field, sometimes with limited equipment, or hire someone to do it, spending much of your income on fungicides to avoid crop diseases.
And yet within a week of cold and humid weather, your entire field has been destroyed by late blight, a disease that wipes out a third of all potato yields worldwide.
But there is a solution. Researchers from the National Agricultural Research Organisation Uganda and the International Potato Center, have developed a new variety of potato which is resistant to late blight. Using new molecular techniques, they transferred late-blight resistance genes into the popular East African potato variety Victoria.
The new variety, known as 3R Victoria, is almost identical to the variety farmers now plant in Uganda, with one crucial difference. It contains three genes from a potato relative that provide it with complete resistance to the late blight pathogen.
As a biotechnology researcher working in East Africa, this breakthrough is particularly exciting. Potatoes are an important staple crop in the region, and this new variety is poised to boost yields dramatically, while reducing fungicide use.
In Uganda, where about 300,000 smallholder households grow potatoes for subsistence and income, the disease can destroy as much as 60% of a farmer