Translating Ethiopian potato seed networks: identifying strategic intervention points for managing bacterial wilt and other diseases

Context Informal seed trade can exacerbate crop disease epidemics. Potato production across Ethiopia is threatened by the spread of seedborne pests and pathogens, particularly by bacterial wilt, caused by the Ralstonia solanacearum Species Complex (RSSC). The RSSC is commonly dispersed through informal trade of seed potato, with the potential to move long distances across Ethiopia and among trading countries. Efficient disease testing programs and formal seed systems can reduce the risk of disease expansion in a country’s potato cropping system.

Objective In this study, we characterized networks of potato value chain actors. We also identified candidate locations for disease surveillance and management interventions for improved seed systems, and locations at high risk for bacterial wilt establishment. We propose strategies to reduce the spread of bacterial wilt via infected seed.

Methods We surveyed seed potato stakeholders to characterize interaction networks of potato value chain actors with a special focus on stakeholders engaged in seed potato quality assurance. We collected data regarding Ethiopia’s potato seed systems and analyzed the risk of spread of RSSC and other pathogens across the country through expert knowledge elicitation. Network metrics were used to characterize the informal seed trade system across Ethiopia, simulating pathogen spread across a network through scenario analyses. We characterized potato exports and imports to identify the risk of bacterial wilt movement through Ethiopia’s formal trading partners and neighboring countries where bacterial wilt has not yet been reported.

Results Ware potato farmers and traders were reported to have weak communication with other stakeholders in the potato value chain. In network analyses and simulated epidemics, locations in Agew Awi, Gamo, Gofa, Kembata and Tembaro zones were identified as candidate priorities for national surveillance of pathogen invasion and expansion through management interventions and formal seed system development. Ethiopia has formal trade with Sudan, Southern Sudan, Russia, and other countries where bacterial wilt has not been reported. Ethiopia may be at risk of reintroduction of the RSSC from countries where it is present, like Kenya and India.

Significance Improving seed systems to manage R. solanacearum and other seedborne pathogens is important for supporting food security and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Ethiopia. Implementing surveillance systems and management programs in locations like those identified in Agew Awi, Gamo, Gofa, Kembata, and Tembaro zones, and improving the communication between ware potato traders and other stakeholders, can help to strengthen informal trade of seed potato and mitigate bacterial wilt spread in infected seed.

Citation: Etherton, B.A.; Sulá, A.I.P.; Mouafo-Tchinda, R.A.; Kakuhenzire, R.; Kassaye, H.A.; Asfaw, F.; Kosmakos, V.S.; McCoy, R.W.; Xing, Y.; Yao, J.; Sharma, K.; Garrett, K.A. 2024. Translating Ethiopian potato seed networks: identifying strategic intervention points for managing bacterial wilt and other diseases. bioRxiv (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory). ISSN 2692-8205.