Winter 2018
Biotechnology Potato Partnership
Science Based Answers to Sustaining Farmers, Solving Hunger and Securing Our Planet
The Biotechnology Potato Partnership is bringing Late Blight resistant potato varieties to Bangladesh and Indonesia with the goals of :
  • Reducing malnutrition and improving health
  • Reducing the use of harmful pesticides
  • Improving social and economic stranding of women
  • Reducing pre and post harvest losses
  • Catalyzing economic growth
Project Celebrates Official Launch in Bangladesh and Indonesia
On December 13, the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) announced the launch of the Feed the Future Biotechnology Potato Partnership during a ceremony in Dhaka. Minister of Agriculture, Matia Chowdhury, attended as the Chief Guest.

Smallholder farmers in Bangladesh are fighting an uphill battle against Late Blight disease. This season a large percentage of crops in the northern part of the country are experiencing heavy losses. Advances in Late Blight resistant biotech potatoes are offering new hope to these farmers.

Dr. Abul Kalam Azad, Director General of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute that serves as the project implementing partner addressed the audience saying, “The launch of the 3R-gene potato variety would save almost 25-28% production cost which is being spent by the farmers for protecting the potato crop from the devastating late blight fungal disease.” This savings comes primarily from the reduced need to spray costly fungicides.

Agriculture Minister Chowdhury told the group that in addition to the farmers spending large amounts of money to combat late blight, “the fungicides cause air and environment pollution and increase risk to farmers health. But the GM potato could be the ultimate solution of these health hazards.”

In addition, the Indonesian Center for Agricultural Biotechnology and Genetic Resources Research and Development (ICABIOGRAD) celebrated the official launch of the Feed the Future Biotechnology Potato Partnership on January 30 th at its headquarters in Bogor, Indonesia. ICABIOGRAD Director General Dr. Ir Mastur and Michigan State University’s Dr. David Douches were the featured speakers of the event.

Dr. Mastur conveyed that Indonesian farmers spray on average 20-30 times per season in an effort to control late blight and that the genetically modified varieties will save a farmer 50-80% of his fungicide expenditures. He continued to say that based on confined field trial data, the cultivation of the biotech potato is expected to increase profit by 42.85% per hectare.
Team members, partners and special guests at the Indonesia launch.

GMO Fact Check
Statement: We don't need GMO's - There are other ways to feed the world...
Fact: Climate change and population growth areFact: Climate change and population growth are expected to dramatically impact the food supply in the next 30 years. GMO crops alone probably will not solve our world food problems, but they can significantly boost crop quantity and quality. "GMOs are just one tool to make sure the world is food-secure when we add two billion more people by 2050," says Pedro Sanchez, director of the Agriculture and Food Security Center at Columbia University's Earth Institute. "It's not the only answer, and it is not essential, but it is certainly one good thing in our arsenal." Quote from Popular Science magazine’s “ Core Truths: 10 Common GMO Claims Debunked” by Brooke Borel.
In Your Kitchen...
Potatoes are versatile and nutritious! This edition's featured recipe has you making Bangladesh potato bhorta. Bhorta is a delicious, smooth, fiery and flavorful mashed goodie made with mustard oil, onions, garlic and red chilies.
  1. Roast 4-5 cloves of garlic
  2. Boil 2-3 medium sized potatoes, peel and smoothly mash.
  3. Mash roasted garlic with 2-3 red chilis and salt to taste and add to mash potatoes.
  4. Add 1/4 onion thinly sliced and 2 tablespoons mustard oil. Mix well.
Serve with rice and enjoy!
Bangladesh to Idaho;
7,488 Miles and A Lot of Potatoes Mashed in Between
Akhter Hossain knows how to work the land. He knows his future and the future of his wife and three young daughters rely on the fields he cultivates. He awakens each day in his village of Poddobila and glances at the Bangladesh sky. The weather guides him as he plans his daily chores. Should he spray today he wonders? The fungicide protects his potato crops from late blight, his biggest challenge to a successful growing season. He’s already sprayed the fields twice this week. He ponders the question knowing his supply of fungicide, prominently positioned in his shed ready for action, is getting low. He’s come to accept the cost of the chemicals as a part of doing business. He knows that without them his entire crop may be completely devastated. Better to be safe than sorry, Akhter decides, as he grabs the sprayer and heads to the field.

Bangladesh’s agricultural landscape is mainly comprised of small-holder farmers like Akhter, who farm on average less than 1.5 acres. Managing pre- and post-harvest loss is crucial if Akhter is to provide a good life for his growing girls. For Akhter that means managing late blight disease. Late Blight, the disease responsible for the historic Irish potato famine, is a problem faced by potato growers across the globe. Currently, his only line of defense against the disease is heavy fungicide use.

He sees hope in the Feed the Future Biotechnology Potato Partnership that recently launched in a ceremony in his capital of Dhaka. A late blight resistant potato would mean big changes for Akhter. Just the cost savings in fungicide alone would impact how he cares for his family! Akhter is familiar with Universities working with his government, but he wonders about the J.R. Simplot Company who is a partner on the project; helping his country so far from their home in the United States.

Almost a century earlier, J.R. Simplot awoke each morning and looked to the Idaho sky. He too knew his future and the future of his family relied on the fields he cultivated. He knew that nature was to be respected, the land full of resources and opportunity. J.R. was determined to bring the resources of the earth to life not only for his family but for the world. Today Simplot has established itself as an industry leader in food technologies and addresses the entire plant ecosystem from DNA to soil health to the products people eat around the globe. J.R. may no longer be a physical figure in the company he founded, but his humanitarian spirit remains. So, when Michigan State University approached the AgriBusiness leader about partnering on the late blight resistant potato project in South East Asia their answer was quick.

And it is fair to say that Simplot knows potatoes. Innovations from the first dehydrated potatoes in the 1940’s to the first frozen french fries in the 1960’s to the first biotech potatoes with consumer traits today, Simplot is on the cutting edge in potato research and development. Innovations that come with a commitment to environmental sustainability. Simplot has successfully brought biotech potatoes to the U.S. marketplace that reduce the fungicides required to protect the crop from late blight disea se. Simplot brings the ir technological achievements to the Feed the Future Biotechnology Potato Partnership and is sharing them – freely. Saving the project time and money.

For Farmers like Akhter across Bangladesh the bioengineered resistant potato can not come fast enough. They’ve seen firsthand how genetically engineered BT eggplant, introduced in Bangladesh two years ago, has improved the lives of their neighbors. A late blight resistant potato could mean a 25% savings in Akhter’s fungicide costs alone, making a dramatic impact in the daily life of his family. The Feed the Future Biotechnology Potato Partnership, as J.R. Simplot would say, is bringing earth’s resources to life. 

J.R. Simplot in his Idaho potato field.
by Marc Ghislain, David Douches, Jan Fierro, and Kelly Zarka 
Late blight disease is enemy number one to potato farmers worldwide. In sub-Saharan Africa, small-holder farmers with limited resources face production losses between 15 and 60% every year. This translates to over US$129 million in lost revenues. In search for a solution to this devastating disease, researchers have been hard at work seeking alternative solutions to heavy uses of fungicide. A recent field trial of a biotech potato, conducted by Michigan State University’s (MSU) Potato Breeding and Genetics Program using the 3R potato technology developed by the International Potato Center (CIP), has shown a high level of resistance to late blight.

This gene-based control of the disease is supported by Feed the Future, the US government’s global hunger and food security initiative funded through USAID, and 2Blades Foundation, who have embraced biotechnology as a viable solution. Three resistance genes (R genes) from potato wild species were transferred into existing popular varieties grown in Uganda and Kenya. Field trials of these biotech potatoes in Uganda, referred to as 3Rpotato (transgenic), have shown that they can resist late blight without fungicide sprays while their non-transgenic equivalents required up to 15 sprays. The trials were conducted in collaboration with the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO).

Likewise, biotechnologists and breeders at MSU transferred the 3R gene technology from CIP into the Diamant potato variety, widely grown in Bangladesh. In the field, the transgenic potatoes stayed healthy while the non-transgenic became heavily infected by potato late blight pathogen and soon died.

“The field results were amazing, seeing healthy potatoes next to devastated ones only thanks to 3 resistance genes from wild relatives” says David Douches MSU project director of the Feed the Future Biotechnology Potato Partnership. This research is another proof that we are today more than ever able to provide our crops with resistance to lethal diseases.

“The findings in the US are remarkable in that it confirms what we have seen in Uganda: biotech potatoes with complete resistance to late blight” says Marc Ghislain leader of the 3R potato project at CIP. More field tests of these late blight resistant potatoes are taking place in Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Uganda. “The impact these resistant varieties can have on small-holder farmers’ futures is great. Many do not have the resources to purchase fungicides and use them safely. Farmers can be seen applying the chemicals with little or no protective clothing, often with bare feet and sandals. The reduction or elimination of fungicides not only reduces the cost of the crops, but also protects the health of the farmers and their communities.”

Farmers, who are excited about the results in the field, will have to wait as the 3R potatoes make their way through the regulatory process in each country. Hopefully, their wait will be a short one. Biotech crops are gaining greater acceptance across the globe as the technology has been proven to work remarkably and be safer than use of pesticides. Countries such as Uganda and Kenya have taken bold steps. Uganda’s parliament recently approved the Biotechnology and Biosafety bill which will ensure the safe use of biotech crops. “With this biosafety legislation put in place, farmers are moving closer to accessing disease resistant crop varieties, opening up countless benefits,” concludes Marc Ghislain.

Reprinted with permission from CIP Blog November 2, 2017