Invigorating the Potato Seed Industry in Africa

An expert and experienced potato breeder, Asrat Amele spends his days, along with his team of researchers and scientists, tending to his potato crop in the lab, the greenhouse, out in the field – and back again.


Working within the International Potato Center’s (CIP) potato breeding program, Asrat and his team are working on a CGIAR Research Program Root, Tubers and Banana to invigorate the potato seed industry in Sub-Saharan Africa. The program activities are based at KEPHIS Plant Quarantine Station, Muguga and KARI Research Station, Tigoni on the outskirts of Nairobi. The team focuses on the making of next generations of robust varieties and production of disease free potato mini-tubers through aeroponics and improved traditional soil-plot system. The team is doing exciting work to produce new breeds of potatoes which are better suited to the local climates and soil types and which are more resilient to local pests and diseases. The team researches the development of new varieties which combine high tuber yield with desirable traits like consumer and commercial preferences and resistance to biotic stresses with enhanced level of adaptation to their specific production conditions.


Invigorating The Potato Seed Industry In Africa


Potato breeding is a delicate process requiring intimate knowledge and understanding of the potato plant. Asrats’ team works hard from the moment they bring new seed to life and from tissue culture plantlets in the lab, to nurturing young plants in the greenhouse and monitoring them closely as they mature into seedlings and full-grown plants.


The potato-breeding program in East Africa has a research emphasis on incorporating genetic resistance and tolerance, enhancing adoption of new varieties as well as responding to the needs, concerns and preference of farmers and consumers, in the region. The program has four major goals: to develop durable resistance to predominant diseases (late blight, virus, bacterial wilt); produce stable yields and quality with less water and under warmer temperatures; improve nutritional and market traits and to develop varieties matching cropping system requirements.


Potato breeding is a core program through which CIP and national partner organizations in Africa contribute to the development of new robust potato varieties which have the potential to promote strong rural livelihoods to help ensure nutrition security and sustainable productivity in the region. CIP and national partners are working through regional potato breeding programs to develop adapted potato varieties for a range of farmer conditions, markets and preferences in Africa by building a collaborative breeding system that uses intelligent breeding methods and clever tools with vibrant community of practice.


In East Africa, the number of requirements for new potato varieties is growing. Growers require novel varieties, which produce higher yield under their prevailing condition, shorter dormancy and on top of that possess desirable traits preferred by consumers and markets.


In most African countries, potato-breeding programs depend on testing materials, which have been developed elsewhere, and in many cases this does not work well. A further problem is that the testing schemes practiced by many are very lengthy (- sometimes taking up to 8 to 10 years to deliver a new variety. And lastly, many programs are constrained by genetic diversity for designing productive and sustainable breeding programs as well as not having access to trained and experienced breeders.


Invigorating The Potato Seed Industry In Africa


Asrat and his team are working towards decentralizing breeding in Africa. The CIP team wants to build capacity in breeding and selection to reduce time and improve accuracy for efficient delivery of pro-poor potato varieties and to develop a platform where breeders in the region interact to stimulate discussion and encourage collaborations across breeding and research teams. The team also wants to focus on integrating a breeding strategy that utilizes scientific knowledge as well as farmer knowledge and experience and which pays attention to gender and age preferences.


The CIP Potato breeding team is currently establishing a regional breeding hub in Kenya and Ethiopia that will support national programs providing new and diverse genotypes which combine unique traits for a range of farmer conditions, markets and preferences. The program currently targets the following countries: Angola, Burundi, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Uganda, Nigeria and Mali.


From the lab, to the greenhouse, to the field, and back again, this talented team is paving the way in potato breeding techniques in East Africa. On a recent visit to the project, we documented the team’s efforts to invigorate the potato seed industry in Kenya through innovative potato breeding work.


See below for a collection of photographs of the people and plants behind the making of the next generation of new seeds for Africa, in Africa.




To see more images of Asrat and his team at work visit the CIP SSA Potato Flickr Site. If you would like further information about CIPs Potato Portfolio click here. And for more information about the Potato Breeding program in East Africa please contact Asrat Amele at


africa, potato seed