On this World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought (June 17), we look across the countries where CIP operates for a roundup of work developing potato and sweetpotato’s


drought resilience. 


The UN observance, made official in 1995, is aimed at discussing ways in which countries can fight drought and aridity exacerbated by climate change, deforestation and other factors. Numerous CIP research projects aim to identify potato clones and varieties better suited to grow in a drier, hotter world.


“CIP has tested a large number of potatoes from its advanced breeding populations using a range of drought stress scenarios relevant to potato crop in Central Asia,” says Awais Khan, a plant geneticist working in CIP’s global program on projects spanning Asia and Africa.


“Based on these tests, we identified drought-tolerant clones and then evaluated them in [the region] under drought stress. These potatoes clones gave promising results in terms of yield stability and drought tolerance indicating good yields under water limited conditions” Khan says


“Having agile [potato] varieties help farmers get a stable harvest in regions with deficiency of water and high temperatures,” said Rusudan Mdivani, regional liaison and potato scientist for Central Asia and the Caucasus. Read more about CIP’s Agile Potato for Asia program. Those commercial varieties of potato currently being imported lack sufficient resistance to heat and drought, notes Mdivani, who is based in CIP’s Tbilisi, Georgia office.


In CIP’s New Delhi office, lowland potato leader Mohinder Singh Kadian explains that for the last four years, CIP has partnered with the Central Potato Research Institute to evaluate potato varieties and clones with high tolerance for heat and drought stress in the Thar desert. Also known as the Great Indian Desert, it forms a natural boundary between India and Pakistan. “A promising CIP clone which can be grown successfully in about 30 percent less water than normal varieties has been selected and introduced for multi-location testing for variety release,” Singh Kadian reports.


Some 16 farmers in the Jodhpur district and another 14 in the Jaisalmer district of the planted and harvested potato for the first time potato successfully on sandy soils in Mar, he explains.


“Some farmers obtained tuber yield over 30 ton/ha,” compared to 23 ton/ha of national average production.



Another key concern as once arable land shifts to desert: the ever-increasing salinity of the soil in which crops grow. CIP scientists are looking closely at the ramifications and examining potato varieties with enhanced salinity tolerance.


Of special note: as the Aral Sea dries up, growing conditions across Central Asia are profoundly affected. CIP has identified and recommended at least two clones for future multiplication and introduction in areas with the slight to moderate salinity of the Aral Sea region.


Already some potato clones under study for this trait have “showed good yield under slight and moderate salinity,” Khan notes. Abdullah-Al-Mahmud, a potato breeder in CIP’s Bangladesh office, reports similarly positive outcomes from work there: of more than 100 potato clones tested, three were chosen for the salinity tolerance they exhibited and are in the pipeline for wider release to farmers.

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