NewsInternationalPotatoes grown from seeds may solve hunger in Africa

Potatoes grown from seeds may solve hunger in Africa


WAGENINGEN – Potatoes grown from Dutch seeds yield two to four times bigger harvests for small-scale, poor farmers in East Africa than potatoes grown using local seed potatoes. These findings are the result of initial tests using experimental varieties grown from potato seeds by Wageningen-based agro-tech company Solynta in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As such, potatoes grown from seeds may prove to be an effective means to provide not only the growing population of Africa, but also those of India, Bangladesh and China with more and better food, and thus contributes to reducing hunger.

For several years now, Solynta has been working on breeding potatoes grown from the actual seeds of potato plants. This method allows one to develop new varieties of potatoes faster, varieties that are better able to withstand potato blights, in turn making the use of pesticides obsolete. These varieties produce increased yield and are easier to transport, because only 25 grams of seed can be used to sow the same number of new potatoes as 2,500 kg of seed potatoes. Thanks to its groundbreaking techniques, Solynta was named a National Icon in 2014, and given a 2.5 million euro grant by EU programme Horizon 2020, because of its huge importance to the global food supply.

Solynta expects they will be able to bring the first marketable potato varieties to the market in 2021. “But really, we can’t afford to wait that long, because 30,000 people die of hunger and malnutrition every day,” says general director Hein Kruyt. “The test in Congo has shown us that Solynta’s True Potato Seeds can contribute solving a serious problem, including in other countries where hunger is an issue.” That is why Solynta is looking for partners and support to be able to supply potato seed sooner to developing countries and other countries where the farmers are looking to increase yield.

The results of the experiment were rather unexpected. Solynta sent an envelope containing the seeds of 10 experimental potato varieties to Nioka in Congo, a representative location for overall potato cultivation in the highlands of East Africa. These seeds were then sown throughout the first half of 2016. Although the test was performed under tough conditions and there was barely any rain for 90 days, the seeds yielded between eight and 29 tonnes of potatoes per hectare, two to four times the usual yield in Africa. “Keep in mind that this experiment wasn’t even conducted with our best seeds – just think of what kind of yield those could produce,” says Kruyt.

After rice, corn and wheat, potatoes are the most cultivated staple food in the world, and they are grown on all continents. The millions of small-scale farmers in Africa who grow potatoes to provide themselves with sustenance buy their seed potatoes on the local market. The average yield per hectare ranges from five tonnes of potatoes per hectare in Uganda to 15 tonnes in Kenya. The yield depends on the quality of the seed potatoes. These are often poor quality, because the propagation, storage and distribution of seed potatoes leave something to be desired. The farmers save part of their harvest to sow in the coming year, which further diminishes the quality of the crop.

Seed potatoes from the Netherlands are unaffordable. On top of that, the containers full of seed potatoes coming out of Europe often spend weeks sitting in the harbour, and it takes even longer for them to be transported to the hinterland. A good portion of the seed potatoes may spoil in that time. Says Kruyt: “We are able to send an envelope full of good, clean seed, instead of a container, within 24 hours, for farmers to use to get started on their harvest.”

Trending This Week

Potatoes in storage

Ultra-early Sprouting is a Storage Nightmare

For the last month, I’ve been receiving calls from growers scrambling with piles that are already sprouting. I’m not talking about one or two...
Potato School

Potato School – Is It On Your Calendar?

WHAT — Potato School is a half day, free-to-all virtual learning event hosted by TriCal Group for anyone in the potato business. Since soil-borne disease...
Cover crop of rye and peas

Improving Our Soil Health for the Future

At our family farm, Swansfleet, in Bruxelles, Man. quality has always been the driving force behind everything we do. Lately, that drive for quality...
True potato seed ball cut open

How True Potato Seeds Can Fight Food Insecurity in Africa

True potato seeds can help stabilize food production in African countries, key note speaker says at HZPC Potato Days. Food insecurity is continuing to grow...
Potato Growers of Alberta banner

Alberta Potato Conference and Tradeshow Kicks Off

Growers from across Alberta, throughout Canada and into the United States have descended on Red Deer, Alta. for the Alberta Potato Conference and Tradeshow. The...