USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative backs potato project aimed to curb loss caused by late blight disease

AFRICA – The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Feed the Future Initiative has awarded a five-year US$13 million support, to a collaborative partnership led by Michigan State University (MSU). 

Dubbed, Global Biotech Potato Partnership, is a collaboration between leading institutions of higher learning, the International Potato Center (CIP), African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), and partner country National Agricultural Research Systems, aimed to curb the prevalence of late blight on potato crops in Kenya, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

A part from MSU, the other institutions involved in the project include Michigan State University, the University of Minnesota and the University of Idaho.

Under the project, farmers will be provided with late blight disease resistant (LBR) potatoes in farmer-preferred varieties.

Technological advances have allowed for the identification of resistant genes from potato relatives that provide full control of late blight.

Although these wild species are not suitable for cultivation, researchers have found that when stacking a series of three of these natural resistance genes and inserting them into popular farmer-preferred varieties durable resistance to late blight can be achieved.

The Global Biotechnology Potato Partnership expects to complete required research necessary to receive regulatory approvals for general release and commercialization of the LBR potato in each of the four target countries within the next five years.

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An additional US$7 million of funding will be availed for related research based on USAID Country Mission priorities.

“This award will allow the activity to reach the goal of providing smallholder farmers in some of the most challenging regions for potato production a safe product that can increase potato yields and lower production costs for inputs.

“A potato with durable host plant resistance to late blight will contribute to food security for developing countries throughout the world,” explains David Douches.

David is the Director of Plant Breeding Genetics and Biotechnology Graduate Program in the Department for Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at MSU.

Marc Ghislain, global leader of CIP’s biotechnology research program, has been conducting parallel research on LBR potatoes in Africa over the last seven years.

“By bringing together MSU’s research in Asia and ours in Africa, our research teams will collectively impact millions of smallholder farmers in food insecure areas,” says Ghislain who will lead activities in Kenya and Nigeria as the project’s Deputy Director – Africa.

Leading Bangladesh and Indonesia activities as the project’s Deputy Director – Asia is Karen Hokanson, Research Fellow in the Department of Horticultural Science at the University of Minnesota.

Karen brings over 25 years of experience in crop biotechnology and biosafety and has worked with both Douches and Ghislain on previous projects.

“Backed by sound science, the project is well positioned to navigate each country’s unique biotechnology regulatory system and ensure the food and environmental safety of the LBR potato,” says Karen.   

The project is expected to be expanded into other Feed the Future target countries and continue work of previous USAID investments focused on the research and development of the LBR potato through genetic engineering.

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