The potato makes a comeback
As wheat and rice prices surge, the humble potato - long derided as a boring tuber prone to making you fat - is being rediscovered as a nutritious crop that could cheaply feed an increasingly hungry world.
Potatoes, which are native to Peru, can be grown at almost any elevation or in any climate: from the barren, frigid slopes of the Andes Mountains to the tropical flatlands of Asia. They require very little water, mature in as little as 50 days, and can yield between two and four times as much food per hectare as wheat or rice. Rice on Wednesday climbed to a record level for a second day to $22.67 per 100 pounds.
The potato has potential as an antidote to hunger caused by higher food prices, a population that is growing by one billion people each decade, climbing costs for fertilizer and diesel, and more cropland being sown for biofuel production.
To focus attention on this, the United Nations named 2008 the International Year of the Potato, calling the vegetable “a hidden treasure.”
Even though the potato emerged in Peru 8,000 years ago near Lake Titicaca, Peruvians eat fewer potatoes than people in Europe: Belarus leads the world in potato consumption, with each inhabitant of the eastern European state devouring an average 171 kilograms, or 377 pounds, a year.
India has told food experts it wants to double potato production in the next 5 to 10 years. China, a huge rice consumer that historically has suffered devastating famines, has become the world’s top potato grower. In sub-Saharan Africa, the potato is expanding more than any other crop right now.
The developing world is where most new potato crops are being planted, and as consumption rises poor farmers have a chance to earn more money. The potato is already the world’s third-most-important food crop after wheat and rice. Corn, which is widely planted, is mainly used for animal feed.
Potatoes come in about 5,000 types. With colours ranging from alabaster-white to bright yellow and deep purple and countless shapes, textures and sizes, potatoes offer inventive chefs a chance to create new, eye-catching plates.
They also have one-fourth of the calories of bread and, when boiled, have more protein than corn and nearly twice the calcium, according to the Potato Center. They contain vitamin C, iron, potassium and zinc.
One factor helping the potato remain affordable is that unlike wheat, it is not a global commodity, so has not attracted speculative professional investment. reuters