Kimuli Potato

Ark of taste
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Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) were introduced to Uganda in the late 19th or early 20th century. They are grown for both subsistence and commercial purposes, consumed as a vegetable or a staple, and often referred to as Irish potatoes, to distinguish them from sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas). The highlands of the Kabale and Kisoro districts, in southwestern Uganda, are particularly suited to potato cultivation.

The kimuli potato is a local white-skinned variety from Kabale, where it has been grown for household consumption since the 1920s. Kimuli is the Luganda word for flower, and refers to the variety’s large white flowers. Kimuli potatoes are traditionally cultivated in banana groves between January and April. Although this variety is somewhat susceptible to late blight (caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans), it is quite resistant to bacterial wilt (caused by Ralstonia solanacearum). Kimuli potatoes grow better if they are weeded and fertilized with manure, but they require no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other treatments. It is said that, once planted, kimuli potatoes will continue growing forever, because of their strength and resilience. In the past, kimuli potatoes had ritual significance in the context of weddings: When a couple got married, the bride’s mother would bring a basket of kimuli potatoes to the groom’s, and the newlyweds would be given a hoe with which to plant the potatoes. The kimuli plants, which would never disappear from the garden, symbolized the strength of the couple’s union, and the bride knew that, even in the event of her husband’s death, the potato field would be hers forever and nobody else would use it. Kimuli potatoes are excellent for roasting, and can also be consumed boiled. They have a wonderful taste and consistency, and turn yellowish once cooked.

Unfortunately, the kimuli variety has been in decline since the early 2000s. Because it is low yielding, slow to mature, and difficult to market (due to its small tubers), many farmers have abandoned it in favor of improved varieties. But these new varieties, apart from being much less tasty, are not as resistant as the kimuli, and do not reproduce as easily. They therefor require chemical inputs that are both expensive and bad for the local ecosystem. It is important to protect the kimuli potato so that farmers and their communities can respond to changing market and environmental conditions.

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Nominated by:Vincent Lagré