Forty years of partnership between Belgium and the International Potato Center (CIP)

Forty years of partnership between Belgium and the CIP

The International Potato Center (CIP) has the world`s largest in vitro gene bank for potatoes: a collection of 4727 varieties are kept in incubators, not on the land (Courtesy: International Potato Center)

June 26, 2018

The Belgian Development Cooperation has been working with the International Potato Centre (CIP) in developing countries since the 1970s.

The aim is to support the research and training required to improve the production of potatoes and sweet potatoes, as well as other root vegetables and tubers.

The role of the CIP, which was founded in 1971 in Peru, is to develop the food capabilities of the tuber and its derivatives. Collaboration between Belgium and the CIP has always aimed to reduce poverty by advocating greater food safety in developing countries. The CIP has won the King Baudouin award on several occasions.

Belgium contributes 2.5 million euros a year in financing (committed until 2020) to the global budget of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), of which the CIP is one of the research centres, to support several projects.

The cooperation with the CIP has mainly focused on Central Africa, one of Belgium's geographical priorities for development. From 2008 till June 2014 a major research project was running to promote the growing, use and consumption of yam beans (large tuber rich in starch) in central and western Africa.

In addition, the Universities of Louvain-la-Neuve, Ghent, Gembloux and Leuven have contributed to the development of research into potatoes, sweet potatoes and other tubers and root vegetables both in the CIP and in Belgium.

To support research in the CIP, Belgian cooperation has also encouraged the study of the genetic biodiversity of Andean tubers. In collaboration with the Catholic University of Louvain and the University of Gembloux it has financed study grants for students from Belgium and Andean countries. The projects want to genetically improve potatoes and sweet potatoes and intensify potato- and sweet potato-based cultivation methods in a sustainable way.

Belgian researchers at the CIP

To boost research at the CIP, Belgian researchers André Devaux, Marc Ghislain, Pieter Wauters and others carry out studies in different areas, including the optimisation of production, post-harvest aspects, the link between potato production and nutrition and the relationship to the markets of small-scale potato producers.

André Devaux

André Devaux, Regional CIP Director for Latin America, has already published more than 50 articles, books and reports in this sector.

He has been linked to the CIP for a number of years. The researcher monitors CIP activities in this region and contributes to the research activities of the CGIAR global "Politics, Institutions and Markets" (PIM) programme, which includes the inclusive development of value chains with the other CGIAR centres in the region and more globally.

He has just published a book on the experiences of the CGIAR centres, on the theme "Innovation for Inclusive Value Chain Development: successes and challenges".

André Devaux, Regional CIP Director for Latin America, has already published more than 50 articles, books and reports in this sector. He has been linked to the CIP for a number of years.

André Devaux, Regional CIP Director for Latin America, has already published more than 50 articles, books and reports in this sector. He has been linked to the CIP for a number of years.

Marc Ghislain

The Belgian Marc Ghislain is responsible for the field of biotechnology as part of the scientific collaboration between the CIP and the University of Ghent, which dates back to the late 1980s.

Marc Ghislain

Marc Ghislain

Potato varieties have been improved through genetic engineering to become fully resistant to potato tuber moth and no longer require constant protection using highly toxic insecticides.

More recently, this collaboration has focused on strengthening biosecurity capacities in Africa as part of a project to reduce losses in sweet potato production due to weevils and viruses in central and eastern Africa.

Pieter Wauters

Pieter Wauters has been based in Kampala (Uganda) since July 2017.

His position is supported by the CIM, the Centre for International Migration and Development.

He works for the "Roots, Tubers and Bananas" global research programme, which aims to improve the living conditions of African potato farmers by using an integrated approach to increase grain quality.

Pieter carries out research into the organisation of potato value chains in Uganda, Malawi and Cameroon.

Jolien Swanckaert

Jolien Swanckaert works to improve sweet potatoes in Ghana. She is also in contact with Ghent University to host a masters' student.
Furthermore, a number of new collaboration projects could be developed between Belgian and CIP researchers in areas as diverse as climate change, increasing the nutritional value of potatoes and the creation of jobs for young farmers in particular in Africa.

Collaboration between Belgium and the CIP also involves the Belgian potato sector, given that production in Belgium has more than tripled in under 40 years. With a surface area of more than 80,000 hectares and production of almost 3.6 million tonnes, Belgium is the 20th largest potato-producing county in the world, and the seventh-largest in the European Union; it is now the leading global exporter of frozen potato products.

The Belgian potato sector was well represented at the World Potato Congress held in Cusco, Peru in May 2018. Belgian researchers also presented the results of their potato-based research.

Unknown super-potato

In the 1980s, Belgium financed programmes to support potato research in eastern Africa (Rwanda, Burundi and Congo).

This project had a positive impact on potato production, consumption and nutrition in these countries.

Gasore, nicknamed the "unknown super-potato" (Courtesy: le fermeur)

Gasore, nicknamed the "unknown super-potato" (Courtesy: le fermeur)

The Gasore, a potato variety selected from genetic material from Belgium, grew well in Rwanda and was reintroduced into Belgium and used in agri-industry in the 1990s, then exported to France.

It is still used in the genetic improvement programme in Belgium today, due to its resistance to diseases such as mildew and viruses, hence its nickname of "unknown super-potato" in Belgium.