We were chatting about potatoes in East Africa, as you do.
“They call them Irish,” said Shane, who was manning the reception desk in Dublin’s Irish Aid Voluteering & Information Centre. I had called in because the centre, in conjunction with Irish aid charity Vita, had been hosting a potato-themed photographic exhibition and related events around last month’s World Food Day.
Shane had spent a good deal of time in various East African countries where – most likely due to the presence of Irish missionaries and aid workers down through the years – “Irish” had become a synonym for potatoes (in much the same way that, when it arrived in Ireland first, the potato was often referred to as An Spáinneach – meaning the Spaniard – as it was they who had introduced the tuber to Europe). And while the potato is a largely non-traditional African crop, the vegetable which kept Irish populations fed for centuries – except, famously, when it didn’t, of course – is one which, it turns out, has a lot to offer countries in the African region.
The potato is more efficient, more nutritious, and more profitable than any other staple crop… and is ideally suited to places where land is limited and labor abundant – conditions that characterize much of the developing world.