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CIP scientist wins best poster award at the Agricultural Biosciences International Conference (ABIC) 2014

Oct 30 2014   |   By: kwame-ogero   |   0   |  

The meeting held on October 5-8, 2014 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada brought together 397 participants from over 60 countries. It was hosted by Ag-West Bio, Saskatchewan’s bioscience industry association. Mr.Ogero’s poster titled “Enhancing Farmers’ Access to Disease-free Sweetpotato Planting Materials through Low cost Tissue Culture for Food Security and Poverty Alleviation in Eastern Africa” is on efforts geared towards reducing the cost of production in tissue culture which was the focus of his MSc research. There were 31 entries in the poster competition with 19 of them being evaluated under the Environment/Food Security category. Other categories included Emerging Technologies and Agricultural Policies/Regulatory Issues. Kwame is a Regional Research Associate based in Mwanza, Tanzania under the Kinga Marando project whose goal is to increase farmers’ access to virus-free sweetpotato vines using low cost net tunnels that protect the plants from attack by insect pests. He was among Four International participants sponsored by ABIC Foundation to participate in the Tomorrow’s Leaders Forum held on October 7, 2014 during the conference. The Forum was a platform for young scientists to share their views and experiences on the role of science, technology and innovations in global food security. It was supported by the Global Institute for Food Security with the University of Saskatchewan, University of Alberta and University of Calgary.

ABIC is the premier global meeting which promotes innovation in bioscience to ensure sustainable food, feed, and fibre security amid changing climatic conditions. Held annually, ABIC encourages international collaborations across public and private sectors. Delegates come to network, learn and discuss issues of relevance, particularly for agricultural biotech policy and research enterprises for the good of the whole planet. The theme of ABIC 2014 was Global Leadership in a Changing World, with three streams: Innovation, Impact and Strategies. About 42 world-renowned experts made presentations spanning the three streams. The keynote address was delivered by Julie Borlaug, Associate Director for External Relations at the Norman E. Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture. Next year’s edition will be held on September 7-9, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia.

Kwame (2nd Right) and winners in the other categories posing with the Chair of the Judging Panel, Dr. Reno Pontarollo (Right), CEO & President, Genome Prarie
Kwame (2nd Right) and winners in the other categories posing with the Chair of the Judging Panel, Dr. Reno Pontarollo (Right), CEO & President, Genome Prarie


Panelists in the Tomorrow’s Leaders Forum with Dr. Janice Tranberg (in red jacket), Assistant Deputy Minister, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of Saskatchewan and Prof. Maurice Moloney (4th right), Executive Director, Global Institute for Food Security.
Panelists in the Tomorrow’s Leaders Forum with Dr. Janice Tranberg (in red jacket), Assistant Deputy Minister, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of Saskatchewan and Prof. Maurice Moloney (4th right), Executive Director, Global Institute for Food Security.

Latin American network for potato late blight is created

Oct 28 2014   |   By: jorge-luis-alonso   |   0   |  

The network was created during the 26th Biennial Congress of the Latin American Potato Association (acronym in Spanish: ALAP), held in Bogota from September 28 to October 2, 2014, as a corollary to the Symposium: Latin American Late Blight (listen to the audios of some of the presentations here).

The network will officially start its activities once its website has been launched.

Serious disease

Potato late blight, caused by Phytophthora infestans (Mont.) de Bary, is one of the most devastating potato diseases worldwide.

In 1845, it caused the total destruction of the potato fields in Ireland, which were the main source of food for the country, resulting in the deaths of thousands of people and the emigration of many survivors to other European countries and to America.

From that time onwards, numerous studies have been made on the etiology, epidemiology, and control of the disease, and even more have been made since the discovery of the A2 type in Europe in 1984, and the development of biochemical and molecular techniques that made it possible to improve the studies of the genetics of pathogen populations.

A felt need

The creation of the late blight network was a clamor of the researchers working in the region. Europe already has Euroblight, the United States has USAblight, and Asia will soon be working with Asiablight.

To facilitate the work, the Latin Blight network has divided the region into three zones: Andean America, Non-Andean America and Central America, and North America.

It also set the priorities for the topics to be addressed:

  • genotyping of isolates
  • support systems for decisions
  • resistant varieties, and
  • fungicide evaluation

The Latin Blight network will hold a seminar every two years to coincide with the ALAP biennial congress. The next venue will therefore be in Panama City.

Previously published in Spanish in

News release: Princess Astrid of Belgium visits CIP

Oct 24 2014   |   By: rory-sheldon   |   0   |  

An entourage of academics and business specialists accompanied the princess during her visit as part of the Belgian Economic Mission. This special task force, led by the princess, promotes the development of economic and academic relationships between Belgium and the South American countries of Peru and Colombia. The mission visited the International Potato Center to strengthen ties and learn about CIP’s global scientific and economic impacts.

Pieter de Crem, Belgian Federal Secretary of State for Foreign Trade, and Belgian Vice-President and Minister of the Economy, Jean-Claude Marcout, accompanied the princess on her visit. Other members of the mission included Cécile Jodogne, Belgian Secretary of State for Foreign Trade and Investments, Michel Dewez, Ambassador of Belgium in Peru, and Genevieve Renaux, Economic Advisor to His Majesty the King of Belgium.

The academics accompanying the princess represented leading Belgian universities such as the Belgian Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) and the University of Ghent. These universities play a role as collaborative partners with CIP in programs related to genetic enhancement, crop improvement, and crop management for sustainable intensification of potato and sweetpotato cropping systems.

Within CIP’s Biodiversity Complex, the princess appeared keen to learn that CIP houses over 4500 potato accessions and over 7000 sweetpotato accessions. This is the largest genetic collection of potato, sweetpotato, and Andean roots and tuber crops stored anywhere in the world. The head of the Biodiversity Complex, David Ellis, explained how CIP’s renowned genebank conserves and preserves potato and sweetpotato for researchers around the world focused on enhancing food security and improving nutrition for vulnerable populations.

“Belgium and CIP share a long relationship,” explained Dr. Wells, “and Belgium has supported our research both financially and scientifically.” The linkage between CIP and Belgian universities stretches back over the past 43 years. Dr. Wells furthermore explained that Belgian financial support had been critical in CIP’s development of new technologies and programs that have had lasting impacts for smallholder farmers across Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

“It is an honor to have received a visit from Princess Astrid and her special mission, and we look forward to working closely with the Belgian people in the future in order to promote food security, increased well-being, and gender equity for poor people in the developing world,” concluded Dr. Wells at the end of the princess’s visit.

Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid & Dr. Barbara Wells, Director General CIP
Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid & Dr. Barbara Wells, Director General CIP

Asrat Amele, a Potato Breeder in a Sea of Sweetpotatoes

Oct 21 2014   |   By: kathleen   |   1   |  

Born and raised in Ethiopia, Asrat has always been fascinated with plant breeding. He is trained in plant genetics and plant breeding, obtaining his PhD. from Wageningen University, in The Netherlands.

Before starting at CIP, Asrat worked for over 10 years in plant breeding and plant genetics. During a national program in Ethiopia, Asrat got his first taste of working with CGIAR. He was a lead bean breeder for a project sponsored by the Generation Challenge Programme. Asrat found out about an opening as a potato breeder at CIP through his university professor. “I competed for the opening and luckily I got the job.”


Starting with CIP in 2012, Asrat began working towards creating a new regional potato breeding program in Africa, at CIP’s office in Nairobi. Building a breeding program from scratch required some patience at the start: “Inadequate infrastructures and facilities for initiating modest medium scale breeding were some hurdles at the beginning, but through the support of the Global Genetics, the Crop Improvement Program, and the Regional science and Operational Program we were able to beat the traffic and move forward”, the scientist explains.

Asrat enjoys the scientific gains being made at CIP. From testing new potato varieties that combine both local African and exotic allies, to the biofortification breeding for iron and zinc potato varieties, to even the testing of the potatoes in African soil, they all appeal to him. Asrat remembers fondly his experience of working with farmers testing the Andean potato Phureja and watching the potato gain the farmers´ approval. “My preliminary impression from exposing farmers to these new potato types is that farmers are open to learn and test new types in their family system. The conventional approach of developing varieties that have the same appearance as those farmers are accustomed to growing may actually restrict the introduction and exposure of farmers to novel, attractive and adapted germplasm.”


To Asrat, CIP is a great organization where “ideas are thoroughly discussed with colleagues and translated to practice to positive impact the lives of people.” When people hear he works at CIP he often gets asked: Where is the new potato? What is the difference it brings to the lives of people? He happily explains how he is part of a program working for a better future.

Photos: CIP/S.Quinn

Combating Malnutrition and Gender Inequity with Potatoes in Colombia

Oct 15 2014   |   By: david-dudenhoefer   |   0   |  

The initiative, which distributed native potato varieties with relatively high micronutrient levels and provided training to improve farming practices and diet, was led by Colombia’s National University in partnership with Canada’s McGill University and University of New Brunswick. CIP joined as a third party to strengthen the National University’s potato breeding program and to build capacity for analyzing the nutritional content of potatoes.

CIP also provided input into the project’s engagement of smallholders, which included involving local men and women in the selection of the potato varieties that were distributed, and organizing meetings in which project participants discussed traditional farming practices, diet and gender roles. One of project’s priorities was to ensure a high level of involvement by women.

Teresa Mosquera, an agronomy professor at Colombia’s National University who coordinated the project, explained that it targeted five municipalities in Nariño that have some of the highest levels of malnutrition in the country, and where most farmers are members of the indigenous Pasto ethnic group, whose main sources of food and income are native potato landraces.

Teresa Mosquera with Pasto women and Canadian researcher David DeKoeyer at project closing ceremony
Teresa Mosquera with Pasto women and Canadian researcher David DeKoeyer at project closing ceremony

Leonor Perilla, who led the project’s gender component, explained that it included participatory research to identify problems and possibilities related to the roles of Pasto women and men in farming, food security, nutrition and the care of children.

“Women play a fundamental role in food security. They also play a fundamental role in incorporating new potato varieties into their family’s diet,” Perilla said.

CIP researchers trained and helped National University doctoral candidate Clara Piñeros to analyze the nutritional characteristics of native potatoes from the university’s breeding program – many of which were collected in Nariño – and contributed to the process of selecting the native potato varieties that the project distributed to farmers. CIP also sent the National University improved potato germplasm, which included clones that are the result of years of breeding for increased levels of iron and zinc, which will be adapted to local conditions and distributed in the future.

“For us, participating in this project was an outcome opportunity,” said Merideth Bonierbale, the leader of CIP’s Genetics and Crop Improvement Global Program. “We look for opportunities to work with more development-oriented organizations to ensure that the technologies we develop reach the people who need them.”

Bonierbale explained that the biofortified clones that CIP sent to the National University are intermediate products of a long-term process that began almost a decade ago, when researchers analyzed the nutritional characteristics of germplasm in the CIP Genebank and identified native potatoes with high levels of iron and zinc. The subsequent years of breeding have resulted in native potato lines with nutritional characteristics that are ideal for helping populations at risk of malnutrition – especially women and children.

Those improved native potatoes are also being crossed with CIP’s elite breeding lines, in order to combine their enhanced nutritional content with traits such as disease resistance, drought or heat tolerance and earliness (a shorter growing cycle). The progeny of those crosses will eventually be distributed to vulnerable communities in East Africa and Asia.

CIP researcher Gabriela Burgos, who served as the principal liaison with the National University, compared the project to earlier initiatives such as IssAndes and Acción Contra el Hambre, which involved nutritional characterization of the native potatoes traditionally consumed in the target areas, and getting improved potato material from CIP’s greenhouses out to rural communities. “One thing they all have in common is that they are contributing to improved health,” she said.

Bonierbale noted that such interventions not only improve the lives of rural families, they also allow CIP to established partnerships for future collaborations, and develop models that can be replicated in other regions.

Nariño farmer with improved potato seeds
Nariño farmer with improved potato seeds

“Nutritional enhancement is oriented toward target populations at risk of malnutrition. Reaching those people isn’t easy, and targeting a technology and delivery strategy to different populations involves quite a bit of institutional interaction and linkages beyond the research program itself,” she said.

Extensionists from the Colombian organization FUNDELSURCO, another project partner, taught the farmers better agronomic practices, and helped to organize meetings in which Pasto men and women discussed gender roles, nutrition and other pertinent themes.

Perilla explained that during the project’s closing ceremony, Olivia Colimba, a woman from the town of Guachucal who participated in some of those meetings, thanked the researchers for organizing them, saying that she had learned a lot and appreciated the opportunity to express herself. “The truth is that we all learned from those meetings,” Perilla noted.

The project has already distributed potato seed for two improved cultivars to approximately 600 farmers in five municipalities, and a second lot of potato seed is scheduled for distribution in October. Mosquera observed that participating farmers are expected to multiply seed and sell it to other farmers, so that the project’s impact will extend beyond the target communities.

“The hope is that these cultivars will be adopted by more communities, which is especially important when you consider that Nariño produces potatoes for other regions of Colombia,” she said.

The project was funded by the International Development Research Center (IDRC) and the Department for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) through the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF).