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Crop Biotech Update

Rwanda Explores Late Blight Resistance in Irish Potato through Biotech

January 21, 2011

Rwanda is the first largest producer of Irish potatoes in Sub-Saharan Africa according to the International Potato Center's (CIP) most recent estimates. It is the country's most important crop after plantains. The most serious disease affecting potatoes in the major production zones is the late blight (Phytophthora infestans).

In 2009, Wageningen University, Cornell University, and CIP signed a letter of understanding to cooperate on the use of cisgenic and marker-free genetic modification techniques to pyramid R genes in potato for Africa. The DuRPh project coordinated by Wageningen University aims at genetically modifying existing potato varieties by supplying them with R genes from crossable wild potato species mainly from Mexico to combat late blight. The project is funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation.

The Rwandan Ministry of Agriculture, the Rwandan National Agricultural Research Institute, and the agricultural councilor Frank de Laat of the Netherlands Embassy organized a conference on "Making Irish Potato Market Work and Late Blight Resistance in Potato through Biotechnology." The two-day conference held on January 11-12 in Kigali was sponsored by the Netherlands Embassy and supported by Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the International Potato Center office in Nairobi.

The conference was attended by about 55 persons from farmers' organizations, the seed production organization (RADA) and representatives of NGOs, and some donors. It sought to determine which factors influence the size and the profitability of the Rwandan potato supply chain and processing and export industry. Break out sessions on seed technology, use of chemical inputs and resources, and post harvest techniques yielded information for a research and development program. Controlling the oomycete Phytophthora infestans responsible for late blight causing leaves and tubers to rot was also discussed.  

Results of the conference are being processed by officials of the Ministry of Agriculture in Rwanda and the Netherlands Embassy in the country to allow the formulation of an R&D project on late blight resistance management.

For further details, contact Prof. Anton Haverkort at anton.haverkort@wur.nl or Dr. Marc Ghislain at m.ghislain@cgiar.org.