Bigger yields and better crops: how Vita’s potato project is transforming the lives and livelihoods of farmers like Bihran in South Gonder, Ethiopia

In Amhara State in the South Gonder Zone of Ethiopia, Irish Aid and Action on Poverty are supporting Vita in delivering our LEARN Programme. One aspect of this far-reaching, life-transforming project, is our potato seed multiplication initiatives that aim to provide rural and struggling farmers with better-quality seed, climate-smart agronomy training, storage facilities and new technologies, and a route to viable markets where they can sell their seeds and crops.

This programme is enabling communities to build resilience to climate change and establish secure, sustainable, and thriving livelihoods that lift families out of poverty. Birhan Tilaye is one farmer to reap these benefits from his work with Vita.

Birhan hails from the Lay Gayint woreda in Amhara. At 39 years-old, he is married and the proud father of four sons and two daughters.

Birhan Tilaye is one farmer to reap these benefits from his work with Vita

Before working with Vita, Bihran faced many challenges as a small farmer in the district – challenges that he found to be universal amongst his peers. These were a lack of knowledge around modern and effective farming practices and the continued use of traditional and outmoded methods; inaccessibility of improved, high-quality potato seed and even an ignorance around this seed’s existence that kept farmers using “key Dinch”, which produced tiny yields; no use or knowledge around fertilisers; and a lack of finance to facilitate overcoming the above issues.

In 2014, Bihran was able to join Vita’s improved potato seed system programme. In his own words, this experience “opened his eyes.” Vita established a farmer’s cooperative to provide agronomy, storage and business training and to encourage knowledge-sharing among local project participants. It also teaches farmers how to multiply quality seed for more farmers to access and how to market their produce to ensure they receive a fairer price. Bihran is now the secretary of this coop known as the Guasa Seed Multiplication and Marketing Cooperative.

From there, new and improved potato seed was supplied to the farmers which, combined with Vita’s expert land and crop management training, yielded much larger crop harvests than the local seed variety. Integral to ensuring this new boost to farmer’s yields was sustainable, Vita similarly facilitated the cooperative’s construction of both a Diffused Light Storage unit and a screen house. Both of these helped to store seeds and crops so that farmers could have year-round access to food and income security.

A Potato Crop

When the project started, there were 40 members in the cooperative. Now, there are 54 and counting. Bihran’s potato yields have gone from meagre to 30 quintals (1 quintal = 100kg) in the first harvest. His livelihood has transformed into a prosperous and stable career while his family’s life has equally been exponentially improved. They can finally afford to build a new house and to send their children to a better school that will endow them with an education to take them far in life.

Meanwhile, Bihran continues to build on the knowledge he has learned from Vita and is now diversifying his income to provide for his family. He has been able to buy more land and begin investing in livestock: owning an ox, two cows, three sheep and a horse. All of this is to say the financial struggle and physical hardship Bihran endured, is at an end and now, his plans for the future centre on becoming a model farmer in his region.

Thank you to Irish Aid and Action on Poverty for supporting these projects. If you too would like to support farmers like Bihran, €100 can give five families potato seed starter kits and the key to a sustainable source of food, nutrition and income. Support this project here.