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Sustainable potato varieties

Unlocking varieties to reduce environmental impact and improve food security

The sustainable development need

Enhanced productivity and reduced chemical use for a crop important for poverty reduction and food security.

Potatoes (sometimes referred to as Irish potatoes) are an established high value crop across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, with a rapidly growing market. They are becoming an important crop for food security and gender-equitable agricultural development and rural poverty alleviation.

Serious obstacles stand in the way of this potential being realised sustainably. Late blight (caused by Phytophthora infestans) and bacterial wilt (Ralstonia solanacearum) cause major losses in potato and are difficult for poor farmers to control because the required agrichemicals are often too expensive and unavailable. Seed potatoes often carry viruses and other diseases; farmers often lack access to a source of clean seed tubers resulting in very low yields.

Our transdisciplinary response

Gene-based approaches have achieved yield jumps in potato while every year plant scientists continue to discover and validate new disease resistance genes for the crop. Integration of these genes into farmers’ preferred varieties improves the productivity of their farms while minimising the need for chemical control of disease.

The next hurdle to overcome is how to ensure farmers can trust that the new, resistant varieties of potatoes they are buying. Finding a trusted method is important as some middlemen traders have been known to sell normal seed at the higher prices of improved varieties.

To promote access to the disease-resistant, high-yielding varieties, NISD will introduce and test e-verification methods such as innovative scratch cards containing codes that enable farmers to instantly verify the authenticity of the seed tubers using a mobile phone.

Moreover, we will study the use of informal social networks for the promotion of transparent information about the improved varieties, since such networks are the primary means in developing countries through which farmers find out about new technology.

Finally, we will test the effectiveness of offering improved seed tubers together with agricultural insurance, to increase farmers’ confidence to invest in better varieties and practices for their farms.

Partners and progress

The NISD team

The NISD team brings together partners from across the Norwich Research Park with collaborators in Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda.

Jonathan Jones

The Sainsbury Laboratory

Ben D’Exelle

UEA International Development

Arjan Verschoor

UEA International Development

Marc Ghislain

International Potato Centre (CIP), Kenya Office

Alex Barekye

NARO, Uganda

Julius Okello

International Potato Centre (CIP), Uganda Office

Sam Namanda

International Potato Centre (CIP), Uganda Office
International Potato Centre (CIP), Ethiopia Office

Rogers Kakuhenzire

International Potato Centre (CIP), Ethiopia Office

Progress, outputs and outcomes

The Jones lab (The Sainsbury Laboratory) has demonstrated that genes from wild potato relatives confer excellent late blight resistance to potato varieties, even without fungicide sprays. Some of these genes were tested in the field over multiple seasons in Uganda by partners and provided complete resistance to late blight disease. It has also cloned a gene conferring extreme resistance to all known strains of potato virus Y (PVY) and is testing a promising combination of bacterial wilt resistance genes


The work is funded via a Royal Society Collaboration award to Jonathan Jones and Marc Ghislain.

Project contact

If you are interested in this project and would like to know more, please contact:

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