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Irish Experts in Eritrea for Pioneering Dairy and Potato Programmes

A senior delegation led by Irish NGO Vita and including Teagasc and Gorta/SHA is travelling to Eritrea at the weekend to build on the partnership between these agencies and the Eritrean Government. They will be evaluating the impact of a model dairy programme and a model potato programme set up last year.

The delegation includes the Director of Teagasc, Professor Gerry Boyle, with Dr. Lance O’Brien, Teagasc’s Head of Foresight and Strategy, alongside Gorta/Self Help Africa CEO Ray Jordan, as well as Vita Chairman Séamus Crosse and CEO John Weakliam.

The group will visit the dairy and potato farmers to evaluate the pilot programmes, which were set up in partnership with the Eritrean Ministry of Agriculture. The pioneering dairy pilot has 20 model farmers, and early results are already showing a doubling of the milk yield.

The potato pilot programme, which has 25 model farmers, has evolved out of the Irish Potato Coalition. This was set up by the agencies above as well as the Irish Potato Federation and Irish Potato Marketing (IPM). It is a research led programme that supports farmers as they develop every aspect of the production and value chain - from establishing co-ops to improving seed stock, market research, pest and disease control.

“A world class seed potato, Electra, which was specifically bred by Teagasc has arrived and has been tested,” explains Gerry Boyle. “This potato variety can more than double the yield of the current local variety. This pilot programme is expected to drive a national potato programme that will realise the potential of thousands of Eritrean potato farmers.”

Vita has worked in partnership with the Eritrean Government, Irish Aid and the European Union for the past twelve years and has invested in over 45,000 improved cookstoves as well as drip irrigation schemes, dams and water collection points. There has also been tree planting programmes to help prevent soil erosion and provide renewable energy in a country that is paying a particularly heavy price for climate change.

“I am very optimistic about the partnership with the Eritrean Government – I feel that working together will have great impact on Eritrean farm families,” said Gerry Boyle. “The Irish agriculture experience is rich in lessons learnt and successes won, and has evolved to meet so many challenges. Teagasc is the principal in research driven innovation and improvements in Ireland. We know that an integrated system is the best means of managing improvements, and this includes sound research, education and training, and a solid infrastructure to facilitate quality extension work.“

Séamus Crosse also understands the necessity of a fully integrated approach, and the partnerships required to deliver success. “Teagasc bring so much to the table, as do the Irish Potato Federation. Their expertise, from large scale growth and production to value added products and market management, locks in the commercial elements into the programme. But ultimately this programme will succeed because the local farmers, and the Eritrean Government, are ambitious for success.”