BOISE, Idaho – The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded Michigan State a $5.8 million cooperative agreement to improve potato production in Bangladesh and Indonesia. The grant supports USAID’s work under Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative.
As part of the Feed the Future Biotechnology Partnership Project, MSU will partner with the University of Minnesota and Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Company, along with in-country partners in both Bangladesh and Indonesia, to make improved potato varieties available to smallholder farmers. Such varieties can help protect against yield loss and improve livelihoods for those who depend on the crop to survive. Potatoes are the third-largest food crop grown in the world.
Late blight, the disease responsible for the historic Irish potato famine, is caused by a fungus-like pathogen and still has the potential to wreak havoc on today’s potato and tomato crops. To fight the disease, and subsequently increase Bangladesh’s and Indonesia’s food security, the researchers will work with in-country partners to assess the validity of genetically engineered varieties, along with other approaches such as conventional fungicides, to develop the most-sustainable approach to maintain this important crop.
Simplot is the leader in the commercialization of biotech potatoes. Earlier this year, Simplot received USDA and FDA clearance for its first generation of Innate™ potatoes in the U.S. The potatoes are less susceptible to bruising and black spot discoloration and accumulate lower levels of acrylamide when cooked at high temperatures. These traits were achieved by adapting only genes from wild and cultivated potatoes. More recently, Simplot’s second generation of Innate™ potatoes includes two additional traits: lower reducing sugars and resistance to common U.S. strains of late blight pathogen. The second generation potatoes were deregulated by the USDA and are currently being reviewed by the FDA and EPA.
“Genetically engineered crops are among the technologies with potential to increase agricultural productivity, benefiting livelihoods of both small-scale and commercial farmers, while reducing inputs and environmental impacts,” said Dave Douches, who leads MSU’s Potato Breeding and Genetics program. “Internationally, potatoes are the third-largest food crop. So our team is committed to developing new varieties, finding potatoes that result in reduced pesticide use and more sustainable growing methods, and exploring ways to enhance the nutritional value of the potato.”
Developing genetically engineered crops to adapt to drought, temperature extremes and pests is not new. They have been in use for nearly 20 years and are planted in 27 countries on 433 million acres by 18 million farmers, 90 percent of whom were smallholder farmers in developing countries. Genetic engineering can be utilized to overcome challenges for which traditional breeding has been unable to address, and hasten the development of new resilient crop varieties made available to farmers in developing countries. Already, farmers in Bangladesh are growing a pest-resistant genetically engineered eggplant, reducing the number of pesticide sprays needed by nearly 10 fold.
In Bangladesh and Indonesia, the interdisciplinary nature of the initiative is the key to making it all work, said Douches.
“This partnership combines the biotechnology, pathology and potato breeding skills from Michigan State University and the public sector regulatory skills from the University of Minnesota with the product development and commercialization skills of Simplot,” he said. “This, combined with the agricultural expertise of the in-county partner institutions, provides a public-private partnership that is aptly positioned to deliver a potato that’s resistant to late blight.”
About Feed the Future
Feed the Future is the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. With a focus on smallholder farmers, particularly women, Feed the Future supports partner countries in developing their agriculture sectors to spur economic growth and trade that increase incomes and reduce hunger, poverty and undernutrition. For more information, visit http://www.feedthefuture.gov .
The J.R. Simplot Company, a privately held agribusiness firm headquartered in Boise, Idaho, has an integrated portfolio that includes phosphate mining, fertilizer manufacturing, farming, ranching, cattle production, food processing, retail food brands, and other enterprises related to agriculture. Simplot’s major operations are located in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and China, with products marketed in more than 40 countries worldwide. The company’s mission statement is Bringing Earth’s Resources to Life.
For more information: http://www.simplotplantsciences.com .