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Dublin: 12°C Thursday 28 October 2021

Irish charity tackling African hunger - with potatoes

It is a symbol of Irish cuisine, but now the potato is part of efforts to fight famine in Africa.

IT HAS LONG been a staple of Irish diets, going so far as to be synonymous with the country, but an Irish charity is trying to make potatoes something more.

NGO Vita last week held a conference which featured talks on turning the humble spud into a key crop in six African countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique.

Thomas Caffrey Osvald of Vita says that farmers in some of the poorest regions in the world can benefit from the crops.

“The goal is to provide a nutritious crop that can be used across Africa.

“Compared to crops like grain which are dependent on global markets and access to water, the potato is more easily grown.

“Because the potato is so bulky, it is difficult to trade internationally.”


Osvald says that the potato has been grown in Africa for a number of years, but a lack of focus on the quality of seeds meant that blight was common in the countries.

“In Ethiopa, they use the same seed over and over again. There is pathogen in the soil that will affect any crop.

“In association with our partners, we have introduced a high-quality seed. It is adaptable to local soil and has a better chance of keeping production levels high.

“By teaming up with local governments and support services, we can ensure that farmers produce more and more efficiently.”

An ongoing study by Cornell University in the US says that farmers in the country are reluctant to take up the new crops. This, they found is mainly due to poor storage, something Vita aims to tackle.

In 1970 Ethiopian farmers planted less than 30,000 hectares of potatoes. Today, more than 160,000 hectares are planted. Each farmer can yield between 20 and 30 tonnes per hectare.

“The biggest returns wouldn’t generally be monetary.

The biggest change would be that a family would have enough food to get through the year.

“We were looking at cases where families might only have enough food to last eight months or so.”

Vita has organised a photo exhibition to highlight sustainable food systems for food security and nutrition, the focus of World Food Day in 2013. The exhibition will run until Friday 25 October in the Irish Aid Centre on O’Connell Street.

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