If successful, farmers can grow the new potato variety without necessarily using agrochemicals.
Late blight, a potentially devastating disease affecting potatoes and tomatoes, infecting leaves, stems, potato tubers and tomato fruit, spreads rapidly through fields and can lead to total crop loss if left untreated.
According to the International Potato Center (CIP), in East Africa the disease can destroy up to 60-100% of the crop.
CIP scientists working with Rwanda are using bioengineering to transfer resistance genes from wild potato parents to varieties already popular with farmers and consumers to control the disease.
Athanase Nduwumuremyi, senior researcher at Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Development Board (RAB) told reporters on July 12 that late blight resistant potato variety is being developed using agricultural biotechnology.
Agricultural biotechnology is a range of tools including genetic engineering that modifies living organisms to improve plants or animals.
“The new potato variety is resistant to late blight and will eliminate the use of agrochemicals.
He estimates that according to the research roadmap, by 2025 the new variety will be ready for distribution to farmers.
“It won’t take too long to reach the farmers if the process is accelerated.”
What farmers expect
Farmers counting losses from late blight welcome the plan to use agricultural biotechnology to develop a resistant crop variety.
Apollinaire Karegeya, farmer in Musanze district, Rwanda:
“The disease erodes 80% of expected production if a farmer does not have the financial capacity to purchase the necessary agrochemicals. It affects cultivation during rainy seasons, which are also potato growing seasons” .
Karegeya grows Irish potatoes on around 15 hectares each season. He said that once the disease-resistant variety is ready, it could reduce the huge costs incurred for agrochemicals and compensation for workers doing the work.
“We have to use agrochemicals eight times in two months.”
Karegeya spends RWF 3.6 million (about USD 3485) on agrochemicals to control the disease each season.
“One hectare requires three kilos of agrochemicals. Each kilo costs 5,000 RWF (about 4.85 USD), and we spray twice a week.
The farmer uses 30,000 RWF (approximately US$29) per hectare or 450,000 RWF (approximately US$435) on his 15 hectares, each week.
“We hope that the agricultural biotechnology the government is talking about can save us from the losses and costs incurred on agrochemicals, because smallholder farmers simply cannot handle such losses.”
According to Jean Marie Vianney Nteziyaremye, a member of an Irish potato growers’ cooperative in Kabatwa sector, Nyabihu district, a farmer spends RWF 120,000 (about US$116) on agrochemicals per season to spray crops. on 2,000 square meters of agricultural land.
Jean Marie Vianney Nteziyaremye:
“During the rainy season, we spray the agrochemical Dithane. You have to spray twice a week, which is done in the first two and a half months before the crops reach four months of maturity.”
This, he said, requires spraying more than 16 times, which is exorbitant. According to Florence Uwamahoro, the researcher who conducted a survey in 10 districts, late blight was reported by up to 73% of the farmers surveyed.
Creation of a forum on agricultural biotechnology
The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and RAB recently launched the Rwanda chapter of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB). It aims to improve awareness and knowledge sharing on innovative agricultural technologies to increase production, Error! Invalid hyperlink reference. in the country.
The platform is present in seven other countries: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and Tanzania. Africa’s food import bill has risen from $35 billion in 2015 to $49 billion in 2019. Scientists say there is a need for local scientists’ innovations in agricultural biotechnology to help reduce the food import bill .