Buffett sweet potato balls

Lets get this part out of the way: search Google for “Buffett sweet potato,” having seen an announcement at Papgren, and the number 3 link is for Buffett sweet potato balls. But that’s not what I was after.

I was after details of a US$3 million grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center to enhance sweet potato for Africa. The project has two aims: to boost resistance to a couple of diseases — sweet potato feathery mottle virus and sweet potato chlorotic stunt virus — and to improve the nutritional content of sweet potatoes, most notably by increasing folate, iron and zinc.

Excellent. Africa needs higher yields and more nutritious diets. I don’t know what approach the Danforth will take, but as they’ve teamed up with the Monsanto company it is possible that there will be some direct manipulation of DNA involved. Again, excellent, because sweet potato is generally reproduced by taking clones — cuttings, actually, often called slips — from parent material, so farmers should be able to distribute any material they receive. But, I wonder, just how many different varieties will the project engineer? And isn’t there a risk that this effort, particularly if it is successful, will blanket Africa with a few genetically similar varieties that do not have the diversity to withstand the next disease epidemic, making that, when it comes, all the more disastrous?

Rhetorical questions, I know, and ones that I’ve asked before. The funny part is, nobody else seems to be asking them. That Google search, in news? Precisely two items, and one of those is essentially the press release. The other is kinda fun.

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