One Reply to “Remembering the Irish Potato Famine”

  1. I am not sure that varietal uniformity had much to do with the Irish potato famine. Blight is all over the place in the Andes, where most of the potato variation is. Also in 1845 it could have been a `new encounter’ disease – originating from wild species in Mexico, meaning that no cultivated potatoes of any variety had any evolved resistance: varietal diversity would be no use.
    “… in forty years of field testing for late blight resistance in Central Mexico, no tuber-bearing Solanum species, wild or cultivated, has shown immunity to P. infestans.” [Niederhauser, 1991]
    Apart from the bad luck of depending largely on a susceptible variety (as most potato varieties probably were then) the Irish also had a vast human population – I think the only country to have fewer people now than 170 years ago.
    An added problem is the ability of P. infestans to change faster than the host. In our blight years in northern Scotland Solanum phureja does best. But the more diversity we grow in our garden the more inoculum of P. infestans we maintain – not a good idea when a local industry is growing seed potatoes (fewer aphids and viruses up here). The answer would be to grow only one species (S. phuraja) all the time but we like eating other species/varieties.

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