Naro institute develops new Irish potato variety to curb late blight

Wednesday May 25 2016

Farmers and other stakeholders tour a

Farmers and other stakeholders tour a demonstration garden where improved Irish potato seedlings are grown at Kachwekano Zonal Agriculture Research Institute in Kabale District. PHOTO BY ROBERT MUHEREZA 

By Robert Muhereza

Kachwekano Zonal Agriculture Research Institute (KZARDI), which is under Naro, has produced a disease-resistant Irish potato variety via biotechnology to enable high yields for food security and income generation.

This was revealed by the KZARDI director, Dr Alex Barekye and the project investigator, Dr Andrew Kiggundu during a one-day stakeholders meeting in Kabale.

They said the new variety, which is an improved Victoria type, has been tested for two years. It can planted until harvest without the use of any fungicide in between.
The research was supported by the International Potato Centre through its regional office in Nairobi, Kenya.

Increasing demand
The development comes in at a time when farmers are counting losses due to late bright disease, which destroys their potato gardens while others are spending a lot of their hard-earned money on fungicides to fight the disease.

According to the research carried out by the institute, Irish potato is grown by more than 300,000 smallholder households, producing a total of 800,000 tonnes on 112,000 hectares. By 2015, the demand for Irish potato was up to one million metric tonnes.

But potato late blight is one of the most devastating diseases causing up to 60 per cent yield loss in the sector. Uganda losses up to $128m annually due to the disease.
The study also established that the late blight pathogen is difficult to control because it has become resistant to fungicide.

“We have produced a disease-resistant variety through biotechnology to boost production. We have proved that this variety produces high yields and it can help on issues of food security,” said Dr Barekye told the stakeholders that included prominent potato farmers and those involved in potato seed production in Kigezi sub-region.

“Besides farmers earning good money especially at this time when there is increased demand for Irish potato in the Great Lakes region. All we need is the Parliament to pass the biotechnology Bill so that we can distribute it to farmers.”

Stephen Tindimuboona, the chairman, Uganda National Seed Potato Producers Association, said the current varieties such as Victoria and Kinigi are susceptible and the available fungicides do not check the late blight disease.

“I planted 80kgs of Irish potato seeds and harvested only four kilogrammes because of late bright that has become resistant to the fungicides,” he notes. “Parliament should quickly pass the Bill so that the new disease-resistant variety is distributed to farmers to curb losses.”

Kabale District chairman Patrick Besigye Keihwa, who presided over the meeting, hailed the scientists for the innovation .
He said it will benefit the people of Kigezi who depend on Irish potato as a major food and cash crop. He also called for continued sensitisation of communities as well as policy makers on the importance of genetically modified varieties. It is the way to go if quality and quantity food production is to be realised so as to meet the food demands for the increasing population.

Also, the potato farmers and seed producers mooted the idea of collecting signatures to petition the Speaker of Parliament and the President. The intention is to demand the immediate passing of the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill that was first tabled before Parliament in 2012.

Eric Kagezi, the senior programme assistant at Programme for Biosafety Systems in Uganda, pointed out that it was necessary to facilitate the farmers and stakeholders on this initiative.