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Cultivating Food Security in East Africa

Researchers from the National Agricultural Research Organisation Uganda and the International Potato Center, have developed a new variety of potato which is resistant to late blight. Using new molecular techniques, they transferred late-blight resistance genes into the popular East African potato variety Victoria. The new variety, known as 3R Victoria, is almost identical to the variety farmers now plant in Uganda, with one crucial difference. It contains three genes from a potato relative that provide it with complete resistance to the late blight pathogen. In Uganda, where about 300,000 smallholder households grow potatoes for subsistence and income, the disease can destroy as much as 60% of a farmer’s potato crop, which translates into annual losses of approximately $129 million. In Ethiopia, an estimated 1 million farmers already grow potatoes, and up to 70% of arable land is suitable for its cultivation. The 3R variety eliminates the need for fungicides. This means that farmers could save money and have a much better chance of getting a full harvest every year. With a reduced risk of diseases, it also means they could grow crops during the heavy rainy season, when late blight is most prevalent.