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Jim Godfrey - chair of CIP

Developing a taste for potatoes

The United Nations has declared 2008 the International Year of the Potato. Jim Godfrey is a potato farmer from the UK, and is Chair of the International Potato Center (CIP) and Chair of the Alliance Board of the CGIAR Centers. He is Former Chair of Scottish Crop Research Institute and the Potato Marketing Board. CIP's remit is to reduce poverty and hunger through scientific research.

Raising awareness of potatoes

I grew up on a potato farm and am passionate about potatoes, partly because each year has its own challenges including the weather, pests, diseases and the vagaries of the market. I was very fortunate to represent potato growers through my work with the Potato Marketing Board in the UK and this took me around the world meeting growers, traders and research scientists. I realised that we all shared a common interest and optimism about potatoes.

Potatoes are the most important root and tuber food crop in the world. They originated in the high Andes, close to Lake Titicaca and there are an estimated 5,000 varieties of native potatoes across the Andes. At CIP we have 4,200 of these in our genebank, making it the largest collection of potatoes in the world. Under an agreement with the United Nations we hold these potatoes in trust for humanity.

As Chair of CIP, I believe I have a duty to ensure we safeguard and develop our genebank and secure funds to enable future generations to benefit from this unique collection. In the last two years, CIP scientists have used material from the genebank to develop resistance to bacterial wilt. This is a devastating disease, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, and I am really pleased we are developing resistant cultivars to help potato farmers and make a significant contribution to hunger and poverty alleviation. One of my great joys is visiting farmers - whether in the Altiplano in South America, or in Africa or Asia - and experiencing their enthusiasm for potatoes. These visits are often accompanied by tasting the many varieties of CIP-bred potatoes they grow.

Return to the source

In Peru in 2004, six communities who had lost many of their native potatoes, created a 12,000 hectare potato park near Cusco. CIP has returned over 400 native varieties the potato park, which they are now growing - providing food and, equally important, regenerating the community culture associated with potatoes.

In the last seven years, CIP has repatriated 25 per cent of the native potatoes in our genebank to more then 30 communities like these in the Andes. This scale of repatriation is unique in the world and is making a substantial and sustainable improvement to genetic biodiversity. It is my hope that other crop genebanks around the world will follow this lead.

I also hope that the International Year of the Potato (IYP) can create greater awareness of the role of potatoes in feeding the world. Developing countries now account for over half of world consumption and much of it is from subsistence production.

To help target the work of CIP, we map poverty, hunger, maternal and child mortality and where there is an overlap with potato growing we intervene by supplying, free-of-charge, new varieties to national organisations who then multiply the seed and supply it to farmers.

Potatoes and food security

We constantly look to the future challenges of a growing world population, changing diets, availability of fresh water, climate change and the distribution of crops, pests and diseases. I believe potatoes will play an even bigger role in feeding the world. To achieve this we must use the best available technologies to help us reduce inputs and the environmental impact of producing potatoes.

At CIP, we are organising a cutting edge research conference in Cusco in March 2008. There will be a travelling potato cultural exhibition in Europe and many other events all around the world.

In the UK it is also the Year of Food and Farming and this will complement the IYP initiative. The British Potato Council is celebrating the year with linking potatoes into the school curriculum to encourage awareness of the importance of potatoes. Let's use 2008 to tell the world about the wonderful story of this hidden treasure of the Andes.

Date published: January 2008

 

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