“The varieties have been unveiled in nine countries and that,” CIP East and Central Africa potato coordinator Dr. Robert Mwanga told Xinhua in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Wednesday.
Mwanga said as of 2008, most countries in Africa had no real breeding program for potatoes and relied on testing materials developed in other continents.
He said CIP experts were accelerating breeding by conducting multi-locational testing from the earlier stages of selection in contrast to the conventional approach of suing one site for two or more initial evaluations.
The experts are also using Near-Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy (NIRS) for rapid and inexpensive evaluation of important quality attributes such as sugar and micro-nutrients.
The breeding effort exploits the broad genetic diversity of African sweet potato germplasm to produce new locally adapted sweet potato varieties in Africa.
The process is linked to national variety development programs in countries led by the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS).
Mwanga said the continent now has 13 active breeding programs that is targeting farmers who plant high-quality potatoes which could give them maximum profit after sale.
“The main challenge that we are now facing is how to breed for the diverse groups of users,” Mwanga said.
The national programs are also expected to release at least 30 locally adapted sweet potato varieties by 2019.
“We want to see an expanding group of sweet potato breeders trained in the latest techniques, using common protocols and raising funds to support their programs,” Mwanga added.
The program that is partly funded by Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa (AGRA) is aimed at providing sweet potato virus disease resistance traits, beta carotene content in eastern and central Africa, drought tolerance and high beta carotene and high iron in southern Africa and high dry matter and low sweetness.
So far, farmers in 12 countries have made yields gains ranging from 8.5 percent to 11.5 percent from 2014 to 2015 in Uganda and Mozambique.
By the end of 2016, the experts will help in the release of several improved non-sweet varieties in Ghana as well as engaging diverse range of traders, processors and consumers in urban set ups in selecting different varieties.
CIP experts are working in Uganda, Mozambique and Ghana besides providing technical support in 17 countries that are targeted for the sweet potato for profit and health initiative. Enditem