Rwandan research team captures Potato Taste Challenge Prize

Rwandan coffee cherries_Joseph King via Creative Commons

Rwandan coffee cherries. Photo Credit: Joseph King via Creative Commons.

Can a dedicated and dexterous team of Rwandan researchers, armed with $20,000 and the support of an international network of problem solvers, tackle the ill effects of a single insect? Every year the “antestia bug” destroys up to 38% of coffee crops in Rwanda and is thought to be the source of a potato taste defect causing huge losses to the coffee sectors in Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Joseph Bigirimana, winner of the 2014 Potato Taste Challenge Prize, and his team will use the nearly $20,000 prize purse to pilot interventions aimed at testing whether controlling antestia will reduce potato taste.  Based at the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB)—the Rwandan government’s agricultural research institute—Bigirimana will partner with Dr. Dick Walyaro and Dr. Theodore Aswiimwe (also from RAB) in his efforts to mitigate potato taste.

The Global Knowledge Initiative (GKI) designed the Potato Taste Challenge Prize in partnership with the Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE), organizer of the prestigious Cup of Excellence coffee competition. In response to what participants at a Coffee Research Symposium held in March 2014 in Kigali identified as a need for practical solutions to the negative effects of potato taste, the Prize will support an innovative technology or technique to detect or mitigate potato taste. An international Technical Review Committee selected Bigirimana’s proposal from numerous excellent submissions. By studying the effect of pyrethroid organic pesticide on antestia and using baseline and post-intervention cuppings to analyze the impact on potato taste, Bigirimana hopes to provide evidence of a successful method of mitigating potato taste by controlling antestia.

As Bigirimana evaluates the ability of his pest management strategy to mitigate potato taste over the next two years, he will have a global network of researchers and private sector firms ready to support his efforts. Since 2012, GKI has built a network of partners dedicated to identifying the causes of and treatments for potato taste through its LINK (Learning and Innovation Network for Knowledge and Solutions) program. In addition to technical support from ACE and GKI throughout his project, GKI will also connect Bigirimana’s team with other, complimentary initiatives striving to identify ways to eliminate potato taste. Integrating Bigirimana’s work with that of East African universities and international partners will bring the Great Lakes region one step closer to eliminating the antestia bug affliction and preserving its global reputation for exceptional coffee.

Contributors: Caroline Smeallie, Andrew Gerard.

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