With unpredictable annual rainfall and drought about once every five years, the potato is becoming a more important crop there.

Semagn-Asredie Kolech, a Cornell doctoral candidate, shuttles between Ethiopia and Ithaca to examine and research efficient agricultural practices. “The potato is a good strategy crop for global warming. It has a short growing season, it offers higher yields, it’s less susceptible to hail damage, and you can grow 40 tons per hectare. With wheat and corn, you don’t get more than 10 tons a hectare.” 

The search is on for optimum planting dates and to create drought-tolerant varieties. But the aesthetic solution is still a work in progress. New varietals have high yield and late blight resistance but see usage drop-off because of differences in taste and color after being stored, so they are different than what farmers are accustomed to.

But when the cultural obstacles are overcome, to young people the new potato might become  the old potato, just like kids in America might not like old pre-2002 Fritos that have trans-fats, it may not be an issue. They plant over 5X more potatoes in Ethiopia now than they did in 1970. Given the land and the population they have, science could make it possible to grow 20X the current crop, to almost 3 million hectares of potatoes, Kolech says.

Potato may help feed Ethiopia in era of climate change By Blaine Friedlander, Cornell Chronicle