It is estimated that there are one million potato farmers in Ethiopia, planting approximately 70,000 hectares annually. The crop – known as the Irish potato across the region – is grown on mainly small half-hectare plots in the highlands, without fertiliser and mostly by women farmers.
The problem in Ethiopia’s potato story lies largely with its seeds – the seed that is available to farmers is generally of poor quality, with less than 3 per cent of Ethiopian farmers having access to improved or uncontaminated seed. As well as this, farming practices are traditional, which means harvests are far below what Irish potato farmers reap from what they sow. There also has been little focus on tackling diseases such as blight.
So, technicians and scientists like Mr. Gebremedhin Woldegiorgis, Senior Potato Researcher from the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) centre – based at Holetta, about 30km from the capital, Addis Ababa – are focusing on improved seed varieties, seed management and production.
Mr. Woldegiorgis said that they are looking at the adaptability of seeds, late-blight resistance, high yields and processing quality, which is why they are in Ireland working with Irish potato experts, learning about technologies and techniques to improve their potato crops from a country that is a leader in this area.
Teagasc, which is responsible for R&D, training and advisory services in the agri-food sector in Ireland, is working with the EIAR to share technologies and potato research.
They are both part of an Irish-led collaboration, the Potato Centre of Excellence, which involves partners from science, business and development sectors and Irish Aid. These include Teagasc, the Irish Potato Federation, Irish NGO Vita, and several other European and Ethiopian administrative and research partners. IPM Potato Group Limited is also a member of this coalition, launched in 2012.
The centre also acts as the driver for the Irish Potato Coalition, an initiative involving Irish and international NGOs working to share knowledge across six countries – Ethiopia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique and Kenya – that account for four million potato farmers.
In the 1980’s IPM introduced the variety “Cara” to Ethiopia. Cara is still the only European variety being planted in some regions due to its great resistance to blight, robustness and yield potential.
Currently IPM Potato Group varieties Banba, Burren, Electra, Nectar, Orla, Savanna and Slaney are undergoing trials in Eritrea with very positive results being obtained. This should continue so that a range of IPM varieties can be available and used in the development of the potato industry in that country.