In a groundbreaking development, scientists in Kenya have engineered a new genetically modified (GM) potato variety that is resistant to the devastating late blight disease, as Stanley Kimuge reports for the Nation Media Group.
The “Global Biotech Potato Partnership” project, spearheaded by Dr. Eric Magembe, has shown promising results in confined field trials across Uganda, Kenya, and Nigeria.
The trials, which began in May last year following approval from the National Biosafety Authority, were conducted at three Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) sites. This initiative is a collaborative effort involving Michigan State University, KALRO, the Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation, the International Potato Centre, among others.
The new GM potato variety boasts a tolerance to late blight, caused by Phytophthora infestans, potentially eliminating the need for harmful chemical applications. The innovation promises to significantly boost yields from the current 10 tonnes per hectare to over 40 tonnes, without the need for chemical sprays.
The conventional potato varieties are highly susceptible to late blight, which globally causes annual losses of 15 to 30 percent. In Kenya, this figure can reach up to 70 percent. The new variety is expected to not only reduce yield losses but also lower production costs and environmental impact due to less chemical use.