IssuesFall 2015World Review

World Review

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United States

A potato genetically engineered by J.R. Simplot Co. in Boise, Idaho to resist late blight — the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine and that still causes extensive damage to crops around the world — has cleared its first federal regulatory hurdle.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved the second generation of Simplot’s Innate brand of potatoes. The new Russet Burbank variety includes the first generation’s reduced bruising and a greater reduction in acrylamide, a chemical produced at high temperatures that some studies have shown can cause cancer. The second-generation potato also includes an additional trait the company says will allow potatoes to be stored at colder temperatures longer to reduce food waste.

The USDA approval is just one step in federal approvals required before the potatoes can be sold to consumers. The next step is approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which ruled the first generation as safe in March. The potatoes must also be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The company said they expected those approvals within a year.

“For historical reasons and current agriculture reasons, this is an important milestone,” said Haven Baker, vice-president of plant sciences at Simplot, following the August announcement. “The Irish potato famine did change a lot of Western history. Even today — 160 years later — late blight is a $5 billion problem for the global potato industry.”

Baker noted that the modifications were made by silencing existing genes or adding genes from other types of potatoes. The late blight resistance, he said, came from an Argentinian variety of potato that naturally produced a defense to late blight.

Baker said the company is currently working on the third generation of Innate potatoes that will have a resistance to a type of virus that can make potatoes unmarketable. He said the company hopes to eventually have potatoes that require less water and can better survive heat and drought stress, a benefit Baker said that could be important as climates appear to be more volatile. “I think that from a scientific perspective, these biotechnology tools have a lot of promise,” he said.

Source: Idaho Statesman

Norway

Potato varieties once thought lost to the Andean people who introduced them to the world will now be safeguarded for future generations, stored for perpetuity deep in the Arctic ice. José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, joined scientific experts and delegations from Peru, Costa Rica and Norway in Svalbard, Norway in August to witness a ceremony that will help to preserve these vital crops for future generations.

The deposit was made at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a back-up facility in the permafrost far north of the Arctic Circle that currently holds over 860,000 food crop seeds from all over the world. Its operation is co-funded by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, whose mission is to conserve the planet’s crop diversity for the food security of current and future generations, and the government of Norway. 

Representatives of indigenous Andean communities who worked together to establish the Potato Park Indigenous Biocultural Heritage Area in Cusco, Peru, deposited 750 potato seeds at the Svalbard vault. The seeds are the result of benefit-sharing projects supported by FAO’s International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

East Africa

Lack of improved seeds, use of obsolete technology, lack of access to credit, effects of climate change and cartel-like behavior are some of the factors being blamed for low potato production in the East African Community. At a recent regional Africa forum on the EAC potato value chain staged in Rwanda by the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme, participants also blamed governments of EAC countries for failing to allocate adequate funding for the production
of seeds and value addition.

Eastern Africa Farmers Federation CEO Stephen Muchiri said the current situation has seen major hotels and traders turn to Morocco, Egypt and South Africa to meet demand for the crop. He added that there is high potential for a potato value chain in East Africa, but the crop has been neglected, despite Rwanda having one of the highest-quality produce in the world.

In Kenya, Muchiri said, the potato sub-sector is largely dominated by cartels that dictate price and segment the market. He noted the crop is mainly grown by small-scale farmers although some larger-scale growers specialize in commercial production. “Potatoes are grown by over 800,000 farmers, cultivating 60,000 acres, but a majority are smallholders and only produce enough for household consumption,” Muchiri said.

The potato is the second-most important food crop in Kenya after maize, but it is increasingly being regarded as junk food as a result of the growing consumption of french fries and chips. This has significantly affected the potato’s role in fulfilling standard dietary needs and also undermined its potential contribution to food and nutritional security in Kenya, Muchiri said.

Source: Digital Standard

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