Disease-resistant potato and banana give hope to farmers

Disease-resistant potato and banana give hope to farmers

Late blight remains one of the most devastating diseases for potato worldwide, costing farmers an estimated USD3 – 10 billion per year globally. Traditional breeding for resistant varieties takes years, and resistance can break down as the pathogen mutates when it encounters resistance genes, leaving farmers no options than using fungicides up to 15 times per season. Similarly, banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW) is a growing threat to the livelihoods of small-scale farmers. Since its appearance in Uganda in the early 2000s, BXW has spread rapidly in the region, causing food insecurity and income loss. No resistant cultivars have been identified, and it can only be controlled through on-farm management practices.

In the face of these serious and persistent challenges to food security and livelihoods, RTB centers and national research partners have developed a biotech late blight-resistant potato with multi-gene resistance, and a BXW-resistant cooking banana variety for East Africa. Confined field trials have shown the crops to be very disease resistant, and otherwise identical to the original varieties.

In 2017, a RTB cross-crop initiative began to ensure the responsible management and regulation of biotech crops. Stewardship in plant biotechnology is the responsible management of a product from its inception through its ultimate use (learn more: http://www.excellencethroughstewardship.org). In addition, biotech crops need to be assessed for their safety to humans and animal health prior to release to the public for commercialization. Environmental risk assessments are also an essential part of regulatory decision-making for biotech crops. Consequently, stewardship plans along with risk assessments and experimental evidence are required to gain regulatory approval and for the responsible cultivation of these crops.

RTB scientists and Ugandan and Kenyan national partners came together with regulatory and stewardship experts to receive training on developing stewardship plans for the disease-resistant potato and banana varieties, as well as to develop plans for risk assessment for food, feed, and environmental safety. Participants were introduced to the data and methodology used to conduct risk assessments. In addition, they were informed about the regulatory policy and framework in Kenya and Uganda. A well-organized regulatory dossier helps regulators to review the application and speeds the review process. Stewardship plans for both products were developed, and a plan was laid out identifying the gaps in information needed for a regulatory dossier, and the field trials required. Following approval, these disease-resistant varieties will be made available to farmers, helping to safeguard their livelihoods against persistent pests and diseases.

Photo: Researchers harvest late blight-resistant potatoes in a trial at Kachwekano Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute in Uganda. Credit: CIP

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