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Vita Launches Potato Centre of Excellence in Africa

A major €5m Vita Potato Centre of Excellence that will increase the supply of food in African countries is being launched on June 13th 2012 by Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney, TD. The Potato Centre of Excellence is a programme for growing Irish potatoes in Gamo Gofa in Southern Ethiopia to enable the two million population to feed themselves in the long term.

Local farmers take out a ‘loan’ of a bag of seed potatoes, which can be returned the next year alongside a donation of another bag, providing yet more farmers with seed for years to come. This process can enable millions to feed their families.

Launching the Vita Potato Centre of Excellence, Minister Coveney commented: “I’m delighted to be launching this very innovative project today. It represents a wonderful collaboration between Irish agri-food expertise through Teagasc and the Irish Potato Federation allied to the development knowledge of Vita along with their international partners in this proposed Potato Centre of Excellence. The generous support of the Irish Potato Federation in supporting model farms and developing local industry as well as Teagasc in developing local research-advisory service linkage shows that the Irish agri-food sector has much to offer other countries seeking to learn from our experiences. I wish the project every success”.

Teagasc Director Prof. Gerry Boyle said: “Food security and climate change are global issues that cannot be solved by any individual country alone. I am delighted to announce today that Teagasc is expanding on our current leadership role in international research consortia, and commencing a new initiative on food security, which will be headed up by Dr Rogier Schulte. Today’s launch of the Vita Potato Centre of Excellence in Africa is the first step and an excellent example of international collaborative research and development on sustainable food security.”

Vita is an Irish international development agency with programmes in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Kenya whose vision is to forge long-term international partnerships which empower rural communities to sustain their livelihoods. John Weakliam, Vita CEO, said: “This project is about technology transfer and business partnership and not about aid, to allow farmers to own their own destiny. The Potato Centre of Excellence can bring about a key solution to the African food challenge.”  

“This links with Ethiopia’s aim of self-sufficiency and business partnership with Ireland,” Her Excellency Lela-Alem Gebreyohannes, Ethiopia’s ambassador to Ireland said:  “We are keen to develop through strategic, long term partnerships that benefit all stakeholders. The Vita Potato Centre of Excellence is an exciting step for the people of Ethiopia, and should serve as a template for replication across Africa.”

Vita is delighted to acknowledge the vital contribution of the Department of Foreign Affairs, through Irish Aid, as well as the European Union, to Vita’s Sustainable Livelihoods Programme in the Horn of Africa.

For further information, please contact Ciara Feehely, 087 6177433