Asrat Amele, a Potato Breeder in a Sea of Sweetpotatoes

Born and raised in Ethiopia, Asrat has always been fascinated with plant breeding. He is trained in plant genetics and plant breeding, obtaining his PhD. from Wageningen University, in The Netherlands.

Before starting at CIP, Asrat worked for over 10 years in plant breeding and plant genetics. During a national program in Ethiopia, Asrat got his first taste of working with CGIAR. He was a lead bean breeder for a project sponsored by the Generation Challenge Programme. Asrat found out about an opening as a potato breeder at CIP through his university professor. “I competed for the opening and luckily I got the job.”


Starting with CIP in 2012, Asrat began working towards creating a new regional potato breeding program in Africa, at CIP’s office in Nairobi. Building a breeding program from scratch required some patience at the start: “Inadequate infrastructures and facilities for initiating modest medium scale breeding were some hurdles at the beginning, but through the support of the Global Genetics, the Crop Improvement Program, and the Regional science and Operational Program we were able to beat the traffic and move forward”, the scientist explains.

Asrat enjoys the scientific gains being made at CIP. From testing new potato varieties that combine both local African and exotic allies, to the biofortification breeding for iron and zinc potato varieties, to even the testing of the potatoes in African soil, they all appeal to him. Asrat remembers fondly his experience of working with farmers testing the Andean potato Phureja and watching the potato gain the farmers´ approval. “My preliminary impression from exposing farmers to these new potato types is that farmers are open to learn and test new types in their family system. The conventional approach of developing varieties that have the same appearance as those farmers are accustomed to growing may actually restrict the introduction and exposure of farmers to novel, attractive and adapted germplasm.”


To Asrat, CIP is a great organization where “ideas are thoroughly discussed with colleagues and translated to practice to positive impact the lives of people.” When people hear he works at CIP he often gets asked: Where is the new potato? What is the difference it brings to the lives of people? He happily explains how he is part of a program working for a better future.

Photos: CIP/S.Quinn

potato, potato breeder, sweetpotato