A million hectares of potatoes in the developing world

This is an important milestone. not only for CIP, which has invested in potato breeding ever since its inception more than 35 years ago, but for the agriculture research community as a whole, because it helps validate investments in crop improvement programs. Over the past three decades, CIP breeders have been spearheading efforts to develop better-adapted, disease-resisting, higher-yielding potato varieties that can become a reliable source of food and income for poor potato farmers around the world. And according to recent findings, this long-term investment is paying off. Equally important, this impressive marker demonstrates farmers’ continued interest in adopting new, improved potato varieties.

In addition to identifying the most popular varieties adopted by farmers, the survey (conducted in 2007 and validated in 2008) elicited information on potato and seed production, released varieties, escapes, and scientific staffing, among other things.

The total area planted to CIP-developed varieties in the surveyed countries increased to 13.1 percent. China contributed to about half of the increase, compared to figures from a previous 1997 survey. Cooperation 88, covering nearly 120 000 ha in 2007, is the largest adopted CIP-developed variety worldwide. Peru also made significant contributions, with the area planted to the Canchan variety more than doubling in just 10 years from 26 000 ha to 58 000 ha. Today, this CIP-derived high-yielding, late blight-resistant potato variety released by Peru’s national potato breeding program is a predominant commercial variety on the Peruvian market.

CIP materials have had significant impact in the poorer countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, contributing to improved food security in that continent. In seven of the eight countries sampled in 2007, CIP-NARS varieties occupied the largest proportion of the total area planted, with 92 000 ha in Rwanda, 30 200 ha in Uganda and 67 000 ha in Kenya. In Tanzania, Kikondo, a CIP-distributed and NARS-released variety occupies 18 000 hectares, representing more than 50% of the country’s total area planted. In Burundi and DR Congo CIP-related varieties occupy almost all of the planted potato area.

Potato is a vegetatively propagated crop that is susceptible to viruses and diseases, which are, in turn, transmitted by infected tubers used as seed the following year. CIP-bred materials have been particularly important for smaller national programs that do not have enough potato production to justify a full-scale breeding effort, and more importantly, the budget to conduct the costly and time-consuming pathogen testing and virus elimination required for successful breeding. The relatively large number of varieties adopted in Sub-Saharan Africa also suggests success in providing adapted materials to highly heterogeneous agro-ecological zones.

CIP-bred materials are set to become more important with potato production in developing countries growing much faster than anticipated. Potato area and yield in developing nations have expanded rapidly since the early 1960s, with production increasing more than threefold and the area more than doubling.

With an estimated achieved yield increase of 2.0 tonnes per hectare, widespread adoption of CIP materials has generated a net present value of more than US$120 million and rates of return to continued investment in breeding and crop-improvement programs of more than 20 percent. If new materials continue to be developed and are successful in responding to farmers’ demands, the aggregate area under CIP-related varieties will continue to increase returns to investment in crop improvement programs. Strengthening breeding programs in developing countries that seek advanced materials and populations for local selection will increase the chance that the released varieties will share parentage with CIP material.

In today’s economic context, the role of the potato as a staple crop becomes more and more relevant as food crop prices settle at higher levels than in the past. Thus, the development and availability of appropriate varieties and crop technologies is crucial to meet an increased potato demand at affordable prices for the poor.

Potatoes, world