Mr Potato Head; the Batwa and the Irish

Around Uganda the region of Kisoro is famous for one thing and one thing only: Irish. Sadly this does not mean the hillsides are teeming with fair-skinned Celts and that Colcannon replaces mashed matooke as the local stable starch. Instead Irish is the term used in Uganda to describe potatoes that are not sweet. The unintended, and hilarious, consequence of this semantic gymnastics is that visitors to the region from the Emerald Isle, when describing their nationality to local people, will instead be declaring that they are a popular root vegetable. At any given time between 50% and 90% of agricultural production in the region is entirely devoted to potatoes and the usually reliable rain/sun mean there is a significant surplus, which is exported to the major towns of Uganda and even as far as South Sudan.

The Batwa, however, have been excluded from this harvest on two counts: firstly as forest people, they do not have a history of cultivation, so lack the skills (and sometimes the motivation) to farm; secondly and most importantly, the Batwa do not own any land upon which to cultivate Irish. In order to try and address this, last year the VSPT loaned some land to the local Batwa community free of charge. The idea was to try and give the Batwa access to this valuable market and help the community learn farming skills, which are vital in the exclusively agrarian rural Ugandan society.

Unfortunately, the first growing season was not a success; an unexpected dry spell in January and February meant there was an unusually high number of pests and this combined with a general wariness of me and the VSPT (it was in the early days of our involvement in the area), meant it was not a success. However, 6 months later, with a significantly improved working relationship the chairman of the community was keen to try again.  As a result over the last week, several women from the community have been preparing the land and the first of the Irish were planted yesterday. So, with some favourable weather and a bit of luck the Batwa will be enjoying their first Irish in about 4 months’ time!

Will, Uganda – Volcanoes Safaris Partnerhip Trust