Developing a better potato for indigenous communities in Colombia


McGill University and developing-country scientists awarded CA$2.8M to fight potato blight in Colombia

McGill University scientists, led by Ajjamada Kushalappa of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, have teamed up with researchers from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia to develop nutritious, high-yielding, and more disease-resistant potatoes for food-insecure indigenous communities in Colombia.

The CA$2.8 million project, announced today by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), in cooperation with McGill University, is one of six new projects funded under the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF). CIFSRF, a five-year, CA$62 million initiative, brings Canadian and developing-country researchers together to produce lasting solutions to hunger and food insecurity in the developing world.

“We welcome the opportunity to work with leading scientists and institutes in Colombia to raise the incomes of poor farmers and make food more nutritious and secure,” says McGill’s Kushalappa. “Our university, one of the world leaders in understanding biochemical processes that occur in stressed plants, will combine efforts with experts in molecular biology at the Universidad Nacional to breed better potato cultivars that resist late blight disease and are high in nutrition.”

In Colombia, where sufficient, safe, and nutritious food is a national concern, the staple food crop – potato – is threatened by blight. In the hard-hit indigenous communities of Nariño, it is also the main income source for small-scale farms, which are mainly headed by women.

Building on research by the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, the scientists will develop a number of highly nutritious potato clones that are resistant to late blight disease. They will also help Nariño’s indigenous communities adopt more environmentally sound agricultural and post-harvest practices. Indigenous women will also learn better agricultural, nutritional, and dietary practices.

"The knowledge that will be generated through this project will be adapted to other Andean countries,” says IDRC President, David Malone. “This is very much in keeping with IDRC’s commitment to research that supports development through the practical application of science.”

"Canada is a world leader in the fight against hunger, and our partnership with IDRC plays a strong part in our efforts. Food and nutrition security remains a key priority of our government's development assistance,” says Bev Oda, Minister of International Cooperation. “Our contribution to CIFSRF demonstrates Canadian leadership in assisting developing countries fight hunger through innovative practices and supports private sector growth in agriculture."

Today’s funding announcement brings to 19 the number of projects supported under CIFSRF which includes researchers from 11 Canadian universities and 26 developing-country organizations. It also represents the third and final round of funding announcements in the first phase of CIFSRF, a key component of the Government of Canada’s Food Security Strategy, announced by the Prime Minister at the 2009 G-8 Meeting in L’Aquila, Italy.

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