The sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas) is one of the world’s principal root and tuber crops. It is mainly cultivated in the tropics, more specifically in the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, and East and Southeast Asia. Its tuberous root is commonly used for human consumption, and its leaves and shoots for animal feed.
The crop originated in tropical America, probably in two separate domestications: one in Central America, and the other in northwestern South America. How it spread to the Pacific islands is controversial, but the crop reached New Zealand around 1150-1250 AD. A second introduction took place during the 16th century, when the Spanish brought Mesoamerican types to the Philippines, and the Portuguese took Central American and Caribbean types to Indonesia. Papua New Guinea is now a secondary centre of diversity. Later, the Portuguese introduced the crop to Africa.
Genesys currently displays information for about 8,000 sweetpotato accessions. About 54% of the accessions are landraces, and 11% are wild relatives. The International Potato Center (CIP) holds the largest collection, followed by the USDA-ARS genebanks.
Due to its role in food security, researchers working with HarvestPlus have produced and released highly productive sweetpotato varieties able to provide daily vitamin A needs, while being resistant to virus diseases and tolerant to drought. They received the World Food Prize in 2016 for this work. Breeders are also exploiting the genetic diversity of sweetpotato wild relatives to obtain drought tolerant parental material. A global strategy has been developed to secure the future availability of sweet potato diversity.