Lesley Torrance was a panel member at the First International Symposium on Plant-Microbe Interactions in Hangzhou, 2012

Institute virologists link with China 

Hutton scientists Lesley Torrance and Stuart MacFarlane are involved in a collaboration with scientists from the Institute of Virology and Biotechnology at the Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Hangzou, China. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the two Institutes in 2010 and has resulted in the formation of an International Joint Laboratory for research into Sustainable Pest and Disease Control. Three scientists from ZAAS, Yu Chulang, Lu Yuwen and Yang Jian, worked for 10 months in the Virology laboratories at the James Hutton Institute to develop research projects on viruses of rice and wheat that are particularly important for Chinese agricultural production. The collaboration is on-going.

Strengthening Potato Production in Malawi

Partners are Paul Demo, CIP potato seed specialist, Malawi and Obed John Mwenye, Department Agriculture Research Services, Bvumbwe Research Station.

Photograph of in-field test showing presence PVY

We will address the key issues identified within a Scottish Government supported survey, which explored the constraints on the potato crop within the Malawian agricultural system. The project aims to contribute to poverty reduction and food security through strengthening the development of sustainable potato production and marketing systems for improved productivity and trade.

Total award for 2010-2013: £399,900

Photograph of plants showing symptoms of bacterial wilt

In collaboration with DARS, CIP and SASA, Edinburgh we delivered a training course in seed potato crop inspection, disease identification, and diagnostic in Dedza District of Malawi, 13–16 March 2012. Lesley Torrance and two senior potato seed inspectors (John Ellicott and Maureen McCreath) travelled from Scotland to Malawi for the training. The course had 37 trainees from different organisations in Malawi involved in seed quality control, seed production, or in backstopping farmers. We conducted classroom and field work and surveyed local farmers’ fields. This year was a bad one for late blight with many crops destroyed or badly affected. Potato crops were also affected by PVY and bacterial wilt.

Monsanto Fund Grant to strengthen potato production systems in Kenya

Photograph of some of the partners in the Monsanto Fund Grant project in Kenya

Potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) is the second most important food crop in Kenya after maize. Potatoes play an important role in food security as they are traded locally and have high nutritional value. Consumption per capita is approximately 89kg per year and rising. There are 5 million potato producers and the potato industry was worth approximately 10 billion KSh (£100 million) in 2007. However, average yields are less than 10 t/ha.

Virus diseases are the major cause of degeneration of seed potato stocks because in potatoes (and other vegetatively propagated crops) once a plant is infected by a virus it cannot be ‘cured’. Infected plants produce virus infected tubers and infected progeny plants. Aphids transmit viruses from infected plants to clean stocks during the growing season thus very quickly infection builds up in the crop unless aphids can be controlled.

The biggest limitation on potato production in Kenya is lack of supply of disease-free certified seed tubers. Less than 1% of growers have access to certified seed. There are bottlenecks in multiplication of sufficient disease-free tubers to supply the demand, as a result growers use home saved seed or that obtained from local markets which is often diseased. In a visit to the Mount Kenya potato producing regions of Buuri and Meru we saw newly emerging crops displaying symptoms of virus diseases in >60% of plants. Potato varieties with traits such as high levels of virus disease resistance, drought tolerance and good processing qualities are required.

We have surveyed virus incidence in potato crops in the major potato growing regions and found high levels of virus in all areas. We have also found that recombinant strains of potato virus Y (NTN and Wilja) are present in several regions. We have conducted aphid monitoring and identified some regions with low aphid pressure that might be suited to seed tuber multiplication to increase seed production. Another aspect of the proposal is to provide tissue culture material of new varieties with desirable traits (PVY resistance, drought tolerance, better fry qualities). This material has been multiplied in Kenya at KARI Tigoni and is currently undergoing National Performance Trials. We will work with commercial growers, government and other agencies and researchers to help support seed tuber production, providing training and demonstrating the benefits of growing crops from ‘clean’ seed to increase yields and to increase farmers’ incomes in a self-sustaining manner.

The project involves a collaboration between the James Hutton Institute and three organisations in Kenya. Lead partner at the James Hutton Institute is Professor Lesley Torrance, Virologist and Director of Science. The lead Kenyan partner is Dr Hassan Were (Virologist), Department of Biological Sciences, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kakamega. Other partners are Dr Florence Olubayo (Entomologist) University of Nairobi and Dr Jackson Kabira (Potato Breeder) Director and Head of Potato Programme, National Potato Research Centre, KARI Tigoni.