The potato was the country’s most important staple food. Only two varieties were under cultivation. A potato disease, caused by a fungus (Phytophtora infestans), broke out. As both varieties of potato were susceptible to this disease, it was able to spread unhindered, wiping out large parts of the crop for six years. Over a million people died, 12 percent of the entire population, and a further two million left Ireland and migrated to America. If there had been more diversity in potatoes, this disaster might not have happened with such drastic impacts.


Embodied in the slogan, “use it or lose it”, in situ schemes address the fact that the conservation of genetic resources is inherently linked to their use. The project found that one central factor determining the motivation of smallholders to support the conservation of plant species and animal breeds was the need for demonstrated economic returns.