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Researcher invents virus resistant, high yielding Irish potato variety

By Robert Amalemba | Published Tue, September 16th 2014 at 00:00, Updated September 15th 2014 at 21:51 GMT +3
Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology lecturer, Prof Hassan Were, who has invented a new potato variety. INSET: The potatoes. [PHOTO:CHRISPEN SECHERE/STANDARD]
 Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology lecturer, Prof Hassan Were, who has invented a new potato variety.[PHOTO:CHRISPEN SECHERE/STANDARD]

Kenya: A researcher at Masinde Muliro University (MMUST) has discovered a new variety of Irish potato, which is set to increase farmers’ yields.

Prof Hassan Were said the new Irish potato variety called Mayan Gold is resistant to viral infections, matures in four months and can yield up to 34 tonnes per acre.

Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) General Manager Quality Assurance Raymond Kibet confirmed that Mayan Gold was found to be fit for human consumption after several tests were conducted.

“Mayan Gold is certified as fit for human consumption and is also licensed. Innovations of such nature by our researchers are one way of keeping Kenya food secure,” Kibet said.

Mr Kibet said Mayan Gold also demonstrated the ability to produce more tubers, a characteristic that was discovered after national performance trials were conducted before it was cleared for multiplication. It can now be released to the market for farmers to plant.

Were’s journey to discover this revolutionary potato brand started in 2008 when he teamed up with the James Hutton Institute in the USA, which offered logistical support for the project.

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Were, who is the professor of molecular plant virology in the Department of Biological Sciences at MMUST said he was motivated by the need to deal with limited farm land in Kenya occasioned by a growing population.

“I learnt that land size per household was rapidly diminishing as a result of population increase. I came up with this variety that produces over 34 tonnes per acre, which maximizes land use,” Were said.

The 47-year-old university don added that his other source of motivation was the lifestyle and eating habits of Kenyans.


“Take a walk in any of the restaurants, sports bars and festivals today and the most popular meal you will find is chips. Arguably, potatoes have become the second staple meal after ugali. That is what made me take this route to make potatoes as common as possible,” he said.

The researcher noted that Mayan Gold also cooks fast.

He said viral infections have for years harassed potato farmers who recorded huge losses which in turn drove prices up. He said the viral resistance quality of the new variety will save farmers from losing their harvests or spending more money on treatment of crops.

“Mayan Gold is resistant to foliar late blight, potato virus Y among other tuber blemish diseases like bruising and splitting,” he said.

Asked what benefit it would serve Kenyan farmers in areas that have traditionally shunned potato farming, he said the trend is bound to change.

“Taboos held by a section of farmers are driving our economy backward. There are people growing sugarcane, maize and the like without any tangible benefits to show for their efforts. Potatoes sell in almost all towns and you will harvest about 34 bags per acre. Given that it can be grown thrice in a year, farmers all over the country will soon catch up to the benefits,” he said.

Were added that the variety does well in the parts of Kenya at an altitude of 1500m above sea level and temperatures below 25 degrees Celsius, with adequate rainfall of about 100 milimitres.

Mayan Gold is yellowish with golden flesh, oval in shape, slightly larger than the average potatoe and weighs in at around 100gms per potato.

Mayan Gold is currently being propagated by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute - Tigoni and Agricultural Development Corporation in Molo for release to small-holder farmers.