When Derek Roulston, a potato expert from Co. Donegal, Ireland, stepped onto the stage at the 12th World Potato Congress (WPC) in Adelaide, Australia, he brought his expertise with him and the transformative work of Vita in East Africa. This pivotal event, which concluded yesterday, highlighted potatoes as a nutritious and sustainable food choice, aligning with Derek’s mission and Vita’s impact in the region.

A Legacy Rooted in Potatoes

Derek’s journey with potatoes began in childhood, growing up on his family’s farm in Ireland, where seed potatoes were a family tradition. After completing agricultural college, Derek’s passion led him to Kenya, where he sought to assist farmers struggling with poor potato yields. Collaborating with the International Potato Center (CIP), Derek established one of Kenya’s first certified seed potato farms. This initiative dramatically improved local yields and laid the foundation for the Africa Potato Initiative, fostering partnerships across the continent.

The Turning Point: From Ireland to Africa

In Derek’s own words, his journey took a significant turn when he visited Kenya. “We went out there, and it was in the Kerio Valley north of Nairobi. This is a very isolated area, and the project positively impacted the people.” Seeing the challenges first-hand, Derek sharpened saws and repaired tools, eventually leading to a deeper involvement in local agriculture. In 1998, he and his family sold their livestock, leased their land, and moved to Kenya, dedicating themselves to improving the community’s agricultural practices.

Transformative Impact through Vita

Vita, an influential NGO revitalising communities in Eritrea and Ethiopia through comprehensive initiatives, has been a key player in Derek’s journey. Vita’s holistic approach integrates community-led infrastructure improvements and agricultural advancements, enabling immediate relief and long-term scalable change. This model has significantly advanced sustainable regional development, mainly through projects like water point repairs and farming enhancements.

Reviving the Seed Industry

Derek’s efforts in Kenya highlighted the chronic seed shortage, with only 80 tonnes of certified seed produced annually against a need for 400,000 tonnes. By advocating for private sector involvement in seed production, Derek and his partners achieved remarkable yields of over 70 tonnes per hectare in field trials—ten times the national average. This success story drew attention from the private sector and NGOs, leading to projects with the International Fertilizer Development Centre (IFDC) across Africa.

A Shared Legacy of Resilience

The connection between Ireland and Africa through the history of famine underscores a shared resilience and commitment to overcoming agricultural challenges. “The famine isn’t that far behind us,” Derek reflects. “We have a responsibility to reach out to our fellow farmers to help them along the way and to uplift their lives.”

Empowering Communities with Vita

Vita’s mission to reduce poverty, hunger, and inequality through knowledge-backed, community-led initiatives aligns with Derek’s work. By enhancing agricultural practices and fostering sustainable development, Vita empowers communities, ensuring long-term benefits and transforming lives.

Looking Ahead

As Derek shared his insights at the WPC 2024, he embodied the spirit of innovation and collaboration that Vita champions. His story is a testament to the deep impact dedicated individuals and organisations can have on global agriculture. Through Vita’s support and Derek’s expertise, the future of potato farming in East Africa looks promising, contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and transforming agrifood systems worldwide.

Join us in celebrating Derek Roulston’s impact at the World Potato Congress 2024 and Vita’s impactful work. Together, we can cultivate a future where sustainable agriculture and community empowerment thrive.

For more information about Vita and how you can support our initiatives, visit: https://vitaimpact.org/