How the Irish potato is saving the lives of millions


Ethiopians are growing the famed Irish spud and the crops are thriving.

The humble potato has always had an important role to play for the Irish. In the mid-1800s one million people died and a further million emigrated to the United States during the Great Famine, in which the potato crop failed. Now the Irish potato is saving the lives of millions affected by famine and drought in Ethiopia.

In 2007, Concern Worldwide — Ireland’s largest aid and humanitarian agency — persuaded 16 young farmers in the South Wollo region of Ethiopia to grow a particular variety of Irish potato that seemed to be resilient to drought conditions. At 10,000 feet above sea level, many other crops had failed to flourish, leaving the population of 704,000 in danger of starvation.

Now, 12 years later, a joint UN/Ethiopian government body determined that four districts — Dessie Zuria, Tenta, Legambo, and Delanta — that had previously been designated as hunger hotspots are no longer in need of emergency assistance.

Although Ethiopians were initially reticent to try out the potato crops — even though their typical barley produce had been failing — 10,000 farmers have now signed up to grow the Irish spud. As a result, the people of this region have seen a boost to their economy, as well as their diet, and perhaps more importantly, have a feeling of hope.

As Eileen Morrow, who is director of Concern in Ethiopia, shared with the Irish Sun: “This incredible success has broken the cycle of dependence on emergency relief and restored dignity and hope in areas that have been hit by recurrent disaster.”

Morrow also explains how the varieties of potato available — namely Belete, Gudeni, and Jaleni — have been improved to become even more resilient in an area where she said it’s even difficult to breathe, let alone have a sufficient supply of food.

Thanks to its success, the Irish potato is now set to be farmed in other areas affected by drought and famine, where 8.86 million men, women, and children are at risk of starvation, according to Irish Central.


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