Tirunesh, 41, is a potato farmer and mother of six from the Gamo Gofa district. Like many others, she struggled to feed her family for three months of the year using traditional farming practices and local seed varieties, which are prone to disease. Known as the hungry season, this period usually lasts from August to November each year.
When a family’s food stores run out – whether from low rainfall, land shortages or other factors – they quickly become malnourished. Children in particular become weak, vulnerable and less able to fight illness.
Tirunesh was selected for a training program to improve her potato production. The program targets women, who face challenges such as lack of land due to local traditions. Tirunesh learned new techniques, such as ploughing, ridge-making and pest management. Using different potato seeds, Tirunesh put her new skills into practice, harvesting three tonnes of potatoes in her first season.
She also built a ‘dark storage’ facility to cut down on post-harvest loss. After receiving some basic materials, such as nails and iron sheets, Tirunesh hired a carpenter to complete the facility using locally-sourced materials. The facility can store and protect potatoes for over four months.
“The new potatoes are disease-resistant, high-growth and have a good yield,” said Tirunesh. “Before the construction of the dark storage, I kept the potatoes under the soil and that exposed them to disease and reduced the shelf life of the product.”
In her last season, Tirunesh sold 500kg of potatoes for USD$95 and kept another 25kg for the next cropping season. She allocated the rest to household consumption.
“I reduced the hungry season by two months and used my income to buy a cow and a sheep,” said Tirunesh. These animals have helped her diversify her income and put money aside for her children’s education.
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