Irish potatoes have prevented another major humanitarian food crisis in one of the poorest and most remote parts of Ethiopia, the Irish aid agency Concern Worldwide has said.
The humble spud, introduced by Concern Worldwide into the country’s drought-prone northern highland regions in 2007, is credited with a major drop in food shortages and improvements in the local economy.
The vegetable is thriving where other crops had failed to grow at 3,000 metres above sea level where visitors can even struggle to breathe.
Concern Worldwide recently received confirmation of the crop’s success when four districts, which were classed as hunger hotspots, were found by a joint UN/Ethiopian government body to no longer be in immediate need of humanitarian assistance.
Their emergency response priority status dropped from one, meaning the situation is extremely urgent, to the lowest level of three, meaning they require monitoring, but no longer lack enough food for an active and healthy life.
This dramatic improvement in the four districts with a combined population of over 704,000 people is the first since the hunger “hotspot classification” measurement system was introduced in 2000.
Concern’s Ethiopia Country Director, Eileen Morrow, said: “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 disasters.
Ms Morrow said the Irish potato was key to solving the biggest challenge faced by the highland population of Ethiopia.
“Initially, potato farming was a hard sell. Families here were used to eating barley and they were dependent on it for their livelihoods.
“We decided to focus on younger generations and eventually we managed to convince 16 youths to pilot potato farming on small plots of land – and now the entire region is reaping the awards.
“Extremely poor people in the highlands who would normally be experiencing extreme food shortages are instead generating profits and are no longer dependent on the government social protection scheme.”
Eileen Morrow said that despite this success, many other parts of Ethiopia are still vulnerable to climate change and this year 8.86 million women, men and children are in need of a humanitarian assistance due to the effects of drought.