Irish potato expertise to benefit sub-Saharan Africa

A book by an Irish potato expert is poised to be a significant game-changer for farmers who grow the crop in sub-Saharan Africa.

Irish international development agency Vita launched the book by John Burke in Teagasc headquarters at Oak Park, Carlow. The book, Growing the Potato Crop, is effectively a training manual for farmers, crop specialists, agronomists and extension workers across the region and beyond.

It is based on John Burke’s own expertise, arising from his vast experience of working with Teagasc, Vita and potato farmers in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Through his guidance, over 12,000 farmers in East Africa have already seen their yields increase by 300% on average, while the programme is now being rolled out in five more sub-Saharan countries.

Director of Teagasc, Professor Gerry Boyle, said it was very proud to have collaborated with John Burke and Vita on the book.

“It will have an enduring impact long after we have all moved on. It is a vital tool in combatting poverty through sound, informed, research–led agriculture,” he said.

The printing of the book was sponsored by potato grower John O’Shea, Iverk Produce in Kilkenny, a key driver, along with other Irish Potato Federation members, of Vita’s potato programme from the start in 2011.

Mr O’Shea said nothing gives him greater pleasure than to see the joy on a farmer’s face when he harvests his crop and sees that he can improve his yield from four tonne per acre to 12 tonne by following some simple steps.

Vita chief executive John Weakliam said the book will enable potato farmers everywhere to improve their situations and that of their families, and therefore, its value is almost immeasurable.

He thanked all involved with the project as well as the University of Wageningen, who alongside Teagasc, co-sponsored three PhD students. The programme is also strongly supported by the Government, through Irish Aid funding.

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