As millions of small-scale farmers struggle with the effects of climate change, scientists at the International Potato Center (CIP) are using wild potatoes to develop climate-resilient varieties. The resulting potatoes combine heat and drought tolerance with resistance to the most important diseases affecting potato crops, late blight and bacterial wilt, which are expected to become greater threats as global warming advances.
Globally, late blight alone causes billions of dollars in losses for potato farmers, who spend more than USD 1 billion per year on fungicides to control the disease. The development of disease resistant potato varieties can substantially reduce production costs and help improve the incomes and diets of small-scale potato farmers.
Scientists spent the past four years evaluating wild – often inedible – potatoes stored at CIP’s genebank in Lima, Peru, and crossing them with cultivated potatoes, with support from the Crop Trust and the Government of Norway. The CIP genebank safeguards one of the world’s largest collections of the potato’s wild relatives, some of which grow in areas with harsh climates or pest and disease pressure. Those plants evolved mechanisms to cope with extreme conditions, and breeders want to transfer those traits into cultivated varieties.
“We will share our climate-resilient potatoes with breeding programs in Kenya, Peru and worldwide for crossing with locally adapted potatoes. We will also provide our partners with training in the evaluation, selection and use of crop wild relatives in potato breeding while raising awareness of their potential globally,” said CIP potato breeder and project leader Dr. Thiago Mendes. Read more