Peruvian potato museum to cover Famine


THE STORY of the Irish Famine and how it related to the potato will be told in an international potato museum being planned in Peru.

Dr Pamela Anderson, director general of the International Potato Center in Lima, arrives in Dublin tomorrow to research the subject. She will visit the Famine Museum in Strokestown, Co Roscommon, and hear from experts on the Famine during her visit.

Her visit has been facilitated by Concern, whose chief executive Tom Arnold sat on Ireland’s Hunger Task Force in 2007 along with Dr Anderson.

An estimated two million people either died or emigrated between 1845 and 1850, when Irish potato crops failed.

Dr Anderson said the Irish Famine contained significant lessons for today, even though it happened more than 150 years ago.

“I want to do a very, very good chapter in the museum on the Irish potato Famine because it’s something that everyone has heard of,” she said. “The story has been told really well by some of your best historians and I’m hoping to meet at least one of them on this trip as well.”

She said a simplistic interpretation of the Famine was that it was caused by potato blight, “but we know it’s much more complex than that. Once you get a disease hit a crop of course there’s a problem, but there are usually all kinds of safety nets to support a population through that. And the safety nets in the case of the Irish potato Famine didn’t exist for the poor in Ireland at the time.”

She said similar problems were being faced in many world locations blighted by hunger today. “It’s not that there’s not enough food. There are other sets of problems that go beyond just being able to grow a crop and protect it from disease. It’s a very complex story.”

Mr Arnold welcomed Dr Anderson’s visit and said Concern had been a supporter of Strokestown’s Famine Museum since its inception. “We’re very keen to promote discussion about the relevance of the Irish Famine to situations in other parts of the world that are still suffering from chronic malnutrition,” he said.

“Nearly a billion people are affected and that has long-term consequences in terms of children that are stunted because they don’t get properly fed in the first couple years of life.”

He said the Irish Famine had a very profound effect in world terms. “Obviously there were other famines where a larger number of people died, like the Chinese famine in the late 1950s. But in terms of having an impact on a country, the Irish Famine probably had a bigger impact than any other one in history.”

Dr Anderson’s work in the International Potato Center centres on food and nutrition security and poverty reduction. “To help people understand the problems today, some times it’s easier to link them to a history lesson,” she said.