Climate change is making it harder for farmers to grow enough food to feed their families. A new potato variety called CIP-Matilde, developed by the International Potato Center (CIP) with support from the Crop Trust, is the latest example of using the wild relatives of crops to adapt our agriculture to new threats.
Though late blight is widely controlled with agrochemicals, millions of farmers are unable to afford or apply them as often as needed, resulting in about USD 14 billion in crop losses annually, primarily in developing countries.
However, Peruvian farmers will soon have a new option for dealing with this devastating disease as CIP prepares to release a potato variety with almost complete resistance. This new potato, called CIP-Matilde, is the product of a breeding effort that crossed wild potatoes with cultivated ones to produce commercially viable potatoes that are able to withstand late blight.
The new variety, CIP-Matilde, was named after scientist Matilde Orrillo, who pioneered CIP’s use of wild species in potato breeding in the 1980s. In field evaluations at 10 locations, CIP-Matilde’s yields were comparable to those of Peru’s most popular potato variety, Yungay. However, whereas regular fungicide applications were needed to prevent late blight from devastating the Yungay fields, CIP-Matilde grew well without any fungicides.
It is a result of a long-term effort to preserve, study, and use the potato’s wild relatives in breeding supported by the Crop Trust through its Crop Wild Relatives Project, a global initiative to adapt agriculture to climate change. The project makes all its products available to others under the rules of the Plant Treaty, an international agreement to foster the conservation and sustainable use of crop diversity.
“The release of this variety is an important milestone for the project,” says scientist Benjamin Kilian, manager of the Crop Wild Relatives Project. “I hope it will be one for many farmers as well.”
It was clear to researchers at the International Potato Center (CIP) that farmers needed a solution to late blight when they found its damage in potato fields in high altitude areas of the Andes that were once free of the disease. In mountain areas where humid conditions facilitate late blight’s spread, potato farmers have to apply fungicides four to six times per month or risk losing their crops. Scientists predict that risk will increase as climate change transforms weather conditions.
Liberating Peruvian potato farmers from the cost and risks of applying fungicides, CIP-Matilde is an example of the potential of using crop wild relatives for breeding climate-smart varieties, an approach that could boost food production and farmer resilience.
As climate change increases the risk of crop diseases, farmers need more robust crop varieties, notes the Crop Trust’s Kilian. The hardy wild cousins of cultivated crops can come in handy for this. Crop wild relatives have evolved to withstand harsh conditions like extreme heat and drought and through a process called pre-breeding, scientists can transfer these useful traits into cultivated varieties. It’s a laborious process, but the results are worth it.
This work was supported by the Government of Norway through the “Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change: Collecting, Protecting and Preparing Crop Wild Relatives” initiative, managed by the Crop Diversity.
Source: International Potato Center (CIP). Read the full article here
Photo: CIP technicians harvest Matilda potatoes in field trials. Courtesy CIP