Irish potato experts have invented a new spud that could help prevent famine and feed millions in Kenya.
A team from the Donegal Investments’ potato company IPM have developed a new disease-resistant breed of potato, and the company has agreed to provide the potato seed for Kenyan growers and help provide several crops per year.
The group of experts developed the new potato breeds based on scientific research conducted in association with Teagasc at its Oakpark facility in Co Carlow. Donegal farmer Derek Roulston has been leading the group planting potato crops 2,000 meters above sea level in the foothills of Mount Kenya.
In late November, Overseas Development Minister Joe McHugh traveled to Kenya at the end of November to see IPM sign a deal with Kevian Food Group, agreeing to provide seed potatoes to the Kenyan farm food production company.
Kevian Food Group founder Richard Rugendo said: “I know that Ireland lost half of its population to death and emigration during your potato famine. Today Irish expertise is helping to develop potatoes which will hopefully help us to avoid famine and hunger here in Kenya,”
The Irish Independent reports that the new test crop yields up to six times higher than indigenous species.
Farmer Derek Roulson, who has helped Kenyan potato production for more than 15 years, said: “The potential for the potato to feed the masses is becoming more and more recognized.”
“It has a lot more drought and heat resistance than you would think. It is more efficient in using water to produce carbohydrates than maize or wheat.
“There is huge interest in Kenya and right across Africa in potatoes right now.
“For Kenya the big food crop has been maize and that was the staple diet but in the past few years it has been hit with a number of different pathegons (diseases).
“Farmers realize the potato is more dependable but there has been a huge problem sourcing seed. We cannot import seed directly because there is a risk of importing disease so we have brought genetic material from our Irish potato varieties here to Kenya.
“The productivity of the Kenyan seed potato has been declining so the yield has been dropping to around three tons to the acre.
“At home in Donegal we’d be hoping to get 20 tons per acre. The seeds we have grown here under laboratory conditions have now been planted here and the first crops have been very very good. We are very happy with it.
“We will have to keep checking the next few crops and get approval then after that so we are looking at progress to full production in the next two years.
“I am very excited because this program has massive potential to help feed millions of people in a country and on a continent where the population is exploding.”
Minister McHugh announced that €120,000 ($128,000) in funding would be provided through the Irish Embassy in Nairobi to build 12 low-cost potato storage sheds for a dozen farming co-operatives. Farmer Roulston led the design of the sheds, which allow for longer storage of crops.
Said Minister McHugh: “We can be very proud of the work being done by IPM and Teagasc and the massive potential their work here has for so many people.”
“The potato crop has been part of the Irish journey and we want to help it to be part of the Kenyan journey going forward.”