Orange-fleshed Sweetpotato

– Robert Mwanga –


Dr. Robert Mwanga is a 2016 World Food Prize Laureate. His efforts have led to millions of Africans being spared the devastating effects of vitamin A deficiency (VAD). He successfully developed 22 new varieties, seven of them biofortified orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP). OFSP, the high-provitamin A (beta-carotene) varieties are important in reducing VAD, a leading cause of illness, blindness and death in children under five years. Some of his released varieties have gained importance regionally and are widely grown in countries such as Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique and have reached Côte d’Ivoire . Ex-ante analysis has shown that if OFSP was adopted by one-in-six Ugandan households within 10 years post-availability, the effort would result in an estimated internal rate of return of 16-30% and a net present value of US$23-67 million. Robert combined the high dry matter content important for Ugandan taste buds with high resistance to viruses and Alternaria blight, and high beta-carotene concentration in the same genetic background to produce adaptable varieties preferred by children, farmers and consumers. His varieties have been used in Uganda to show the feasibility and effectiveness of biofortified vitamin A-rich OFSP for increasing maternal and child vitamin A intake and status.
Robert with his partners produced the most comprehensive sweetpotato genetic map, and formulated a novel artificial diet for rearing sweetpotato weevils in the laboratory for experiments. Dr. Mwanga has led, since 2009, regional sweetpotato breeding work in East and Central Africa under the Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA) project of the International Potato Center (CIP), applying modern methods of plant breeding such as accelerated breeding, and developing resistance to weevils and viruses by conventional and biotechnology means to improve the efficiency of sweetpotato breeding in the region.
For more than a decade Robert in 14 successful projects led as overall principal investigator or has been leader of one of the main components in such projects as SASHA, and Development of high-yielding, multiple-resistant sweetpotato germplasm.
Robert has supervised three PhD and six MS students, co-authored and published 67 peer reviewed papers in international journals, 25 book chapters and 166 conference/workshop paper proceedings. He has been a key note speaker at many conferences and in several important panel discussions on biofortification such as at the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development, UK Parliament, London, March 2017.
Robert Mwanga was a program leader for sweetpotato research in the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) in Uganda until 2009 when he joined the International Potato Center (CIP) as a Sweetpotato Breeder for sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), specifically responsible for East and Central Africa. Robert is the CIP Country Manager for Uganda. He coordinates the community of practice annual meeting for sweetpotato breeding and genomics in SSA under the Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative (SPHI). Dr. Mwanga holds a PhD from North Carolina State University in plant breeding and genetics.