The Irish potato is supporting communities in a region of Ethiopia so high above sea level that other crops are failing.
Humanitarian organisation Concern Worldwide introduced the potato to four districts in the drought-prone highland regions of South Wollo in 2007.
Despte the harsh conditions 3,000 metres above sea level, the potatoes are thriving, and have helped the area out of a situation where they are considered ‘hunger hotspots’.
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.
“It is very challenging to increase the yield of crops in high altitudes. Very little can thrive at 3,000 metres, but the Irish potato has proven to be a rare exception.
“When I first visited our projects there in 2016 during a major drought in the country, it was a real surprise to see potatoes growing so successfully at an altitude that had me struggling to breathe.”
Potatoes were introduced into the area in 2007, with just 16 farmers in the Dessie Zuria district trialling the crop.
There are now more than 12,000 farmers in the area growing potatoes.
The success has seen Concern drop the priority status for aid 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.
Eileen continued: “We improved the varieties of potatoes available – namely Belete, Gudeni, and Jaleni. They have turned out to be very resilient and productive in drought affected highland areas, while other main crop staples like barley withered.
“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.
“Our experience in South Wollo shows that aid works and can dramatically improve people’s lives.”
You can learn more about the work of Concern by visiting www.concern.org.uk.
Written by Andrew Moore