The International Potato Center (CIP) is working on providing market access to genetically engineered potato varieties with complete resistance to late blight disease for farmers in Kenya and Nigeria. The program run in conjunction with Michigan State University (MSU) has held confined lab and field trials in Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda with the cultivar showing absolute resistance to late blight– not tolerance– minimizing the risk of the pathogen’s adaptation.
Caused by Phytophthora infestans, it is the most serious fungal disease of potatoes in the countries resulting in output losses ranging from 10 per cent to total crop failure. The resistance genes are located in wild potato relatives located in Mexico and Argentina which have evolved to be resistant to Phytophthora infestans. These strains are rare and not found in Africa.
The potato is the second most cultivated crop in Kenya with cultivation largely focused in highland regions about 1,200 to 3,000m above sea level. Its actual production however still remains staggeringly low at 2-3 million metric tons per year against a potential to produce 8 to 10 million tons of potato.