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Malawi farmers reap the benefits of Irish potatoes

Malawian women are spearheading an Irish potato project that aims to alleviate poverty and malnutrition in the region

Irish Aid has been helping small farmers grow specific varieties of Irish potatoes to improve food security in Malawi.

The farmers are also being trained to recognise the strongest potato plant in the field and use the seeds for the next crop. The programme is expected to boost the yield of the crop by an average of 30 per cent.

"We teach the farmers positive and negative selection in order to increase yield. Weak and diseased plants are pulled from the ground so that they do not contaminate the rest of the crop and their seed do not weaken the next crop," International Potato Centre expert Paul Demo explained.

A number of villages have been selected to take part in the training who, in turn, would teach it to others as the programme is rolled out.

The project has seen immediate benefits, Irish Aid said, pointing out to a local village that was able to buy five hectares of land with money earned from selling potatoes.

The Kamthiti village expects to produce 20 tonnes of potatoes this year and farmers from Dedza region have fully embraced the programme, the organisation reported.

Close to 12,000 farmers have been involved in the project to date and the number is expected to increase to 55,000 by 2015.

A number of new varieties of potatoes would be introduced in September 2012, Demo said. The potatoes would be highly resistant to diseases such as blight and ideal for making crisps and chips.

Irish Aid works closely with Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a network of 15 international research centres that helped create the potato varieties.