Two New Projects in Global Food Security Launched

December 2012

McGill University scientists awarded 2.79 million dollars to improve potato, for increased food security of indigenous communities in Colombia, based on functional genomics |McGill press release

Scientists from McGill University, led by Prof. Ajjamada Kushalappa, in collaboration with scientists from Universidad Nacional de Colombia and the indigenous communities education institute Fundelsurco, are to develop potato cultivars with resistance to late blight disease and high nutritional content, based on state-of-the-art metabolomics technology, to improve food security of the indigenous communities in Nariño region of Colombia.

The $2.79 million project, announced today by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), in cooperation with the McGill University, will improve the food security of several indigenous communities, who are very small farmers growing only potato as their staple food. Reduced pesticide application, higher yield, and nutritive potato will improve the communities’ livelihood, daily diet and health.

“We welcome the opportunity to work with leading scientists and institutes in Colombia and Peru to raise the income of poor farmers and make food more nutritious and secure,” says Professor Kushalappa. McGill is one of the world leaders on metabolomics of plant stress, and they will team up with the Universidad Nacional and other scientists on molecular biology to breed improved potato cultivars that are resistant to late blight disease and also high in nutritional foods.

The population of the 67 indigenous communities in Nariño, Colombia is 155 000. A significant number of males died in the past conflicts, and women with poor education and skills live with children. Malnutrition and iron deficiency is very prevalent, especially among children. Potato is the only food and cash crop of the indigenous communities of Narino, Colombia. Canada, Colombia and Peru will combine expertise to breed potato to reduce yield loss due to late blight disease and with high nutritive values. The educational system through Fundelsurco will empower women as leaders of potato production and daily family diet.

“The project responds to IDRC’s longstanding commitment to economic and social development through the practical application of science,” says IDRC President, David Malone. “The technologies and benefits being developed will be applied to improve potato production and livelihood of other indigenous communities in Latin America and Canada.”

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