Sweet potatoes in the Solomon Islands

I once proposed a scheme for farmer selection of sweet potatoes (Ipomea batatas) in the Solomon Islands. This clonal crop sets true seeds freely and the self-sown seedlings are often sufficiently productive to be useful. Farmers rely on the best of these seedlings as a source of renewal of older clones, which gradually decline in usefulness. This decline is thought to be due to an accumulation of various parasites, such as viruses, that are transmitted in the propagating material. However, in addition to this clone replacement, most farmers possess one or two 'old' clones. These are clones that were known to their fathers, and which continue to yield well. They are believed to be resistant to the parasites that cause decline.

The suggestion was that a central breeding program should collect old clones from all over the islands, and conduct recurrent mass selection with them. True seed from promising individuals, or cuttings from the best clones, would be given to farmers for screening. Farmers' choices could be used as parents in the next breeding cycle. Grafting the new selections on to plants severely affected with decline would test for resistance to the decline parasites.

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