By Elias Hakizimana.
Sweet potato growing is increasingly becoming important food security crop in Rwanda and the country is its largest consumer in Africa.
A new project dubbed ‘Sweet Gains’ by International Potato Center (CIP) in partnership with Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Development Board (RAB) is seeking to improve mainly the orange fleshed sweet potato variety through a network with other countries.
Speaking amid the meeting that is taking place in Kigali, Robert Mwanga, CIP-breeder from Uganda said that the real idea is to help breeders to breed quickly following the characteristics of the needed crop and needs of potato consumers.
The meeting brought together scientists and breeders and other activists involved in seed system from Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda. Some of them are involved in vine cutting and planting.
“We want them to produce the varieties that comply with the market, processors and consumers in general so as we can improve the livelihoods,” Mwanga noted.
The variety that is being bred is Orange fleshed sweet potato, rich in higher Vitamin A, which is important in disease prevention and as a delicious food for pregnant mothers and kids.
Experts say that when the human body has enough Vitamin A can recover quickly when falls sick.
Globally, every year, Vit A deficiency (Anemia) kills billions of people.
Mwanga said that the new bred sweet potato varieties will save children and mothers at large and will help farmers to get the best out of the common crop.
“Orange fleshed sweet potato prevents children from going blind and avoids frequent sicknesses.
This nutrition expert who was among the 2016 World Food Prize winners said that the breeders are looking at quick ways to produce for markets, consumers and processors and avail enough quality crop.
“We are also looking at ways to improve the crop characteristics; which means color, aroma, and this will be done in short time. Breeders will make sure that what we breed is resistant to viruses and other crop diseases. We also looked at climate change issue; in the Southern Africa like Malawi and Mozambique, they make sure they breed what resist to droughts, we, we want climate smart varieties but also high yield despite prevalence of drought,” he said.
In the whole East Africa, breeders of Rwanda are the only who breed for pest and virus tolerance.
Jean Ndirigwe, a breeder in the sweet potato program at RAB said: “We aim to improve research on potato crop and avoid challenges in seed system. This meeting aims at looking ways of preventing crop diseases mainly sweet potatoes.”
Ndirigwe explained that current vines planted in Rwanda have more than 100 years and are originated from PERU in United States.
“We need to improve the sweet potato characteristics, making Vitamin A abundant and add more nutrients. We expect raising quantity and we need to do this in short period. We will determine the period for breeding and reduce the time it takes in that breeding process,” he noted.
He said that Rwanda is lucky to work in a network of other countries that they will share important data to make excellent work.
“They can help to know for example which quantity of DNA a crop has for successful breeding,” Ndirigwe said.
Sweet Gain project is funded by Melinda Gates Foundation with the aim of increasing production at the farmer field level according to Hugo Campos, CIP official based in Peru.
Hugo said that the 3-year project will be implemented in countries that include (Rwanda, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Ethiopia, Ghana and in Uganda).
“Developing high quality seed is not enough, it also requires gathering together scientists and breeders to make it quickly. We want to breed disease tolerant varieties as we need them to be resilient to climate change. We are developing a second variety of bio-diversified sweet potato to fight Anemia.” He said.
The Sweet Gains project will use the budget of $15million to be implemented.
Currently, Rwanda has over 158 potato varieties in RAB’s gene bank. They release some according to the needs of Rwandan community (farmers, processors and consumers).
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