Great ideas, science and dedication: 50 years of transformative innovations

With 50 years of research-for-development work in potato and sweetpotato-based agri-food systems, the International Potato Center (CIP) has contributed to greater food and nutrition security, and economic growth for millions of small-scale farmers and resource-poor consumers worldwide.

Here we examine how a selection of CIP’s research-for-development innovations are helping the sustainable transformation of  agri-food systems with root and tuber crops and science.

HOW WE MAKE A DIFFERENCE

CIP breeders and plant scientists work with farmers and other partners to develop and disseminate early-maturing potato and sweetpotato varieties with higher yields, improved nutritional and culinary qualities, and greater resilience to pests, disease and climate change. Our plant and agronomic specialists develop tools, best practices and innovations tailored for different agro-ecologies that help farmers optimize those varieties. Our social, nutrition and food scientists help farmers and communities understand, adopt, and profit from value chain approaches and market innovations and identify suitable mechanisms to increase technology adoption at scale. In partnership with governments, businesses and international organizations, we scale these innovations and approaches, putting the tools for better harvests, incomes and health into the hands of millions.

INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION

In the late 1990s, three CIP scientists—Jan Low, Maria Andrade and Robert Mwanga—started a process that would revolutionize the development and delivery of pro-vitamin-A biofortified sweetpotato for the benefit of millions of poor farmers and consumers. This interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral programmatic approach comprised four pillars: a blood analysis study that proved eating orange sweetpotatoes increased vitamin A levels; breeding and dissemination of more nutritious and resilient varieties; nutrition education; and market approaches and field studies to increase and estimate farmer adoption levels. Together, these actions produced a strong evidence base that convinced national and international partners of the value of taking orange-fleshed sweetpotato to scale.

Some 20 years later, as the efficacy and impact of this approach became clear, paving the way for biofortification of other staple crops, CIP’s pioneering work was officially recognized in the international arena. First with the World Food Prize, often referred to as the Nobel Prize for Food and Agriculture, which recognized the three CIP scientists and Harvest Plus’s Howarth Bouis for having “uplifted the health and wellbeing of more than 10 million” people through biofortification.

Later that year, CIP received the Al-Sumait Prize for African Development. Together with the International Institute of  Tropical Agriculture, CIP was recognized not only for improving nutritional security for millions, but also increasing the technical capacity of national research staff and accelerating the breeding of more productive, disease-resistant varieties. To date, these efforts have improved the food security and significantly reduced the risk of vitamin A deficiency for 6.8 million households in 16 African countries and Bangladesh.

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