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[MONTEVIDEO] With 2008 designated the International Year of the Potato, ten Latin American countries and Spain have formed the Latin American Network for Innovation on Potato Improvement and Dissemination, known as Red Latinpapa.

The network was announced following a meeting of regional experts last week (15–18 January) in Lima, Peru, organised by the International Potato Centre (CIP) in Peru.

Latinpapa's aim is to help poor potato farmers in Latin America improve their income and reduce costs by making it easier for them to access new technologies and varieties and getting their input into what traits are most useful.

Ten countries from Latin America and the Caribbean will take part, including Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela. Individuals and organisations that wish to become members of the network are asked to join their national network first, or create one where one does not exist.

Stef de Haan, chair of Latinpapa's coordinating committee and a scientist at CIP, says Latinpapa will stimulate exchange and analysis of genetic material between researchers in the region. It will also increase the access to the protocols of genetic innovations and boost the adoption and knowledge of new varieties, among other activities.

He said that in the last three years several research centres throughout Latin America have been interviewing farmers, seed producers, small-scale businessmen and scientists to identify national needs in the potato sector. This formed part of the discussions between representatives at the Lima meeting.

Latinpapa will receive US$1.5 million over the next three years, funded equally by Latin America's Regional Fund of Agricultural Technology (Fontagro), the National Institute of Agrarian Research (INIA) of Spain, and the governments of the ten member countries.

The network will be coordinated by the committee chaired by De Haan, consisting of representatives from Bolivia, Colombia, Spain and Uruguay.