The establishment of an Asian late blight network is part of a global trend of greater collaboration and knowledge sharing to improve the management of that highly destructive crop disease.
At a satellite event during the World Potato Congress, which took place in Beijing during the last week of July, approximately 50 people from an array of countries attended the kickoff meeting of Asiablight: a regional network for knowledge sharing to improve control of potato late blight disease.
The cause of historic famines, potato late blight remains a major constraint for farmers around the world. The creation of Asiablight is the latest effort to promote regional cooperation around the disease.
Though the pathogen behind late blight, Phytophthora infestans, is widely controlled with fungicides, those agrochemicals represent a significant cost and threat to the environment and human health. This is especially a problem for the smallholders in developing nations whose diets and incomes CIP works to improve. Because they lack the necessary resources or knowledge, those farmers often don’t apply fungicides properly, and suffer major crop loss despite using them.
“Late blight is a huge problem globally. It is managed with fungicides, but it’s still a big issue,” said Greg Forbes, a senior scientist at the CIP Center for Asia, who was instrumental in AsiaBlight’s creation.
CIP has long bred late-blight resistant potato varieties and promoted integrated approaches to managing the disease, but the pathogen’s propensity for spawning new lineages has complicated efforts to control late blight. In fact, a first order of business for Asiablight members will be to map major the genetic groups of Phytophthora infestans in Asia, as a baseline for studying the disease and designing better control strategies.
Forbes explained that the proposal to create AsiaBlight was approved in November 2014 at a CIP workshop in Nepal that was attended by potato experts from 10 Asian nations. That decision came on the heels of the creation of a Latin American late blight network, called Red Tizón Latino – after the disease’s name in Spanish (tizón) – which was launched in Bogotá, Colombia in October 2014, at the Congress of the Latina American Potato Association (ALAP).
Forbes, who has been promoting knowledge sharing on late blight for years, observed that there are many advantages to regional cooperation on the disease, such as centralized data management, capacity building and better selection of late-blight-resistant potato varieties.
European scientists have been sharing knowledge on late blight since 1996 through the network EuroBlight, and their colleagues in the United States created USABlight in 2011. CIP has cooperated with both those networks and has been active in Red Tizón Latino since its creation. The first meeting of Asiablight included presentations on Red Tizón Latino and Euroblight, the latter of which focused on cooperation between the public sector and industry in Europe.
“CIP is kind of a broker in this, facilitating and trying to find funding for these different networks,” said Forbes. “As a global research center, we promote ideas such as standardization and better data management, and these networks can provide a mechanism for achieving them.”