No one expected when Irish President Michael D Higgins met with Charles Handy what they 
would talk about .....potatoes!

No one expected when Irish President Michael D Higgins met with Charles Handy what they would talk about ...potatoes!

Emerging Africa is increasingly important to international companies and it’s all about doing business. President Higgins recently declared a new era in Irish-Ethiopian relations, moving from aid towards trade and economic partnership. At the same time, world-renowned management thinker Charles Handy visited Ethiopia with the Irish development agency Vita to review a project that is shaking up the traditional concept of aid handouts.

Vita is the driving force behiand the Irish Potato Coalition which is 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. This radical approach of sharing knowledge and setting standards of international best practice is revolutionary in development work. The success of the Irish potato in southern Ethiopia is attracting leaders from all sectors.The levels of expertise and high implementation standards led international management guru Charles Handy to take a look.

Now he too is hooked on the Irish potato.Born in 1932 in Clane in County Kildare, Charles Handy rose to become one of the most recognised and influential management thinkers in the world. Since his first books “Understanding Organisations” and “Gods of Management” were published in the 1970’s, Handy has shaped the thinking of business students and management executives worldwide.

Having heard about the Irish Potato project, Handy asked to hear more about it. Now, six month later and Handy is lending his weight to the project.

Charles Handy has just returned from a 6-day visit to Ethiopia with Vita CEO John Weakliam, to critique Vita's Potato Centre of Excellence. He now intends to produce a book that will show the impact of the Irish potato on the lives of resource-poor farmers.

Charles was accompanied by his wife Elizabeth Handy, a well-known photographer who has contributed to many of the 23 books published by Charles Handy. Together the Handys will portray farmers in Ethiopia and Malawi and how the potato is changing their lives. Ethiopia is one of the highest-performing economies in sub-Saharan Africa, but people are still hungry. This is the crux of the problem for international companies wanting to avail of the lucrative opportunities that this continent offers. Empowering and training smallholder farmers is on the agenda for an obvious reason: some 500 million smallholder farmers – those who tend to work on farms of less than 10 hectares – produce about 70 per cent of the world’s food. On a continent where 200 million people are chronically malnourished and five million people die each year as a result of hunger, there is an urgent focus on the African farmer. There is increased willingness of companies to engage with local farmers over the past five years – the needs of the big international companies and small agricultural operations are converging. There is a growing trend of international agribusinesses and food companies increasing their involvement with smallholder growers.

In Africa, the future colour of gold is green – it’s agriculture. And it is being led by the Irish!

About Vita

Vita is an Irish development aid organisation working in the Horn of Africa, enabling rural households to build sustainable livelihoods through innovative food and energy security work. This includes building green zones through dissemination of fuel efficient stoves which, reduce the amount of time spent collecting firewood, eye and respiratory diseases and also generate carbon emission savings which can be sold on carbon markets to fund more green zones. The Irish government is funding Vita's potato programme and green zones through Irish Aid.

To learn more contact:

John Weakliam, CEO, Vita, Equity House, Upper Ormond Quay, Dublin 7

Tel: +353 1 8734303