Irish potato helps boost crop in African nations

IRELAND is very well known to Tanzanian farmers, and to farmers throughout Africa, because it gives its name to an increasingly important crop.

In several countries, the fast expanding potato crop is known as the Irish potato. It is associated with Irish missionaries — although people from many countries brought the crop to Africa — and Ireland is well known as a breeder of successful potato varieties.

African potato production has expanded from two million tonnes in 1960 to 16.7m tonnes in 2007.

Potatoes are grown under a wide range of conditions, from irrigated commercial farms in Egypt and South Africa to intensively cultivated tropical highland zones of Eastern and Central Africa, where it is mainly a small farmer’s crop.

In Tanzania’s Uporoto Highlands, pyrethrum and green peas once dominated the agricultural landscape, but are being replaced by “Irish” potatoes and wheat. This has led to fears of soil erosion because flat cultivation is replacing ridges and terraces. However, potatoes can deliver 10 times more food than traditional crops.

Irish taxpayers’ money is being allocated towards the introduction of new varieties of Irish potatoes in some African countries, such as Malawi, , through the International Potato Centre.

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