Popular Irish potato could become East African hero

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23 September 2022
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Rwanda growers upbeat about new variety.

GROWERS in Rwanda have welcomed the government’s ongoing trials on the use of agricultural biotechnology in producing a new Irish potato variety resistant to late blight disease.

Scientists from the International Potato Centre (CIP) are using bioengineering to transfer resistance genes from wild potato relatives into varieties that are already popular with farmers and consumers in the country.

Potatoes cover 3.9% of Rwanda’s total cultivated area and Irish potatoes are the third most popular food crop in the country. However, the average productivity of potatoes is 10 tonnes per hectare which is low, compared to the yield potential of more than 30 tonnes.

The new potato variety could also increase productivity, Athanase Nduwumuremyi, a senior scientist at the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Development Board (RAB) revealed in an article in The New Times.

Rwanda projects to increase potato yield per hectare from 13.5 tonnes in 2021 to 14 tonnes in 2024.

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Grown on 106,236 hectares across the country, projected production is set to increase from 1,194,677 tonnes in 2021 to 1,487,304 tonnes in 2024, according to the strategic plan for the agricultural sector.

Athanase said use of the new potato variety will go in line with the biosafety law.

“The biosafety law has all guidelines although it is not yet passed. The draft law is in the Prime Minister’s office after coming from the law reform commission. What we are doing now is to get approval based on the law governing research in general.”

“Before the new variety is released to farmers, a biosafety law will be in place. Otherwise there will be ministerial orders or guidelines and the Food and Drugs Authority will check if the variety meets standards as food and seed,” he said.

He estimates thatthe new variety will be ready for distribution to farmers by 2025.

Sources: The New Times / CIP

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