DUBLIN, Ireland — According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the average person eats 70 pounds of potatoes per year, and farmers in more than 100 nations grow potatoes. As a world, we rely on potatoes as a good source of vitamins, and it is a crop that can grow in even the most nutrient-lacking soil. So what happens when potatoes get wiped out?
From 1846 to 1852, Ireland experienced the worst national crisis to ever devastate its lands: the Great Potato Famine. In this six year span, an eighth of the population was completely eradicated, leaving the nation troubled economically, politically and emotionally.
In the 1840’s, potato was the leading crop for Irish Farmers, both as an export and as a staple for the people of Ireland. According to the BBC, one million people died from the famine, along with the two million citizens who were lost to emigration.
The famine is so well known because of its extremity. Nowadays, a shortage of food would affect only a particular section of the population and most likely for only one to two seasons. Yet in the case of Ireland’s potato famine, it was an issue that affected a third of the population, devastating the country for five consecutive years.
The British government was very much to blame. Their lack of involvement in their own imperial nation during such a calamitous time has been reflected as a true aid in the length of the famine. Even amongst the famine, Ireland was continuing to export crops out of the country. Britain should have been responsible for preventing this and for providing financial aid to Ireland.
According to the UK’s History Learning Site, the potato famine had unimaginable future consequences. For example with a quarter of the population now either removed or deceased, the Gaelic language lost its prevalence, and thus the Irish population began to lose their own identity. They were now a wounded nation, devoid of certain financial and cultural strongholds.
Ireland’s misfortune was a lesson to the rest of the world and extra agricultural precautions are now taken. Farmers currently use fungicides to protect potatoes, but according to Discovery News potatoes are also beginning to be genetically modified. With this modification, potatoes will be immune to the late blight disease, the disease which caused the Irish Potato Famine.
Once these new potatoes become more prevalent, the U.S. Agency for International Development will work to distribute these potatoes to developing countries around the globe. Greg Forbes, plant pathologist for the International Potato Center, has done research as to what areas have the most potential in suffering future outbreaks of potato disease.
“Some areas that stand out are the Andes and the highlands of central Africa, including Ethiopia, as well as the Himalayas, including southwest China and Nepal,” said Forbes. “Basically it is the tropical and subtropical highlands.”
Thus the Great Potato Famine became a warning not only from an agricultural standpoint, but from a humanitarian one as well. Without help from countries worldwide, these suffering times will become detrimental to a nation’s livelihood, just as it was for Ireland. Extreme shortages such as this are addressed in a completely different manner nowadays.
Allies worldwide are expected to come to each other’s rescue. In the same vein as famine, issues like global poverty, child trafficking and lack of education should also never go unnoticed by fellow countries. With this continued attitude, inaction will no longer ever be a cause or a catalyst of any sort of modern catastrophe.
– Kathleen Lee
Sources: BBC, History Learning Site, Discovery News