Potatoes could help solve food crisis

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 6th May 2008

The humble potato could prove to be a vital ingredient in the quest for a solution to the food crisis.

With their ability to be grown in many different locations and climates, coupled with their wide number of potential uses, they may prove pivotal in overcoming a potential global food shortage. Some potato varieties are able to mature within 50 days, many do not require great amounts of water to grow and they can potentially yield up to four times more food per hectare than wheat or rice; thus making them a very efficient source of food.

Bakers in Peru are now being urged to use potato flour instead of wheat flour to make bread due to the high cost of wheat. However, few mills are set up to make potato flour and infrastructure would need to be developed to enhance the potential of the potato. Further, people have become used to wheat over a number of decades and consumers are likely to need plenty of convincing before they make the switch.

The potato, currently the world’s third most important crop behind rice and wheat, is not a global commodity and the cost of the potato has therefore not been pushed up by speculators unlike rice and wheat. It is estimated that only 5% of the world’s potato crops are sold overseas due in part to the difficulty in transporting the product (it is heavy and gets damaged easily in transit) as well as the low prices. Potatoes are grown worldwide on over 190,000 square kilometres and last year a record 320 million tonnes were produced, making it the world’s leading non-grain food.

With the potential of the potato untapped it is little wonder that the UN have declared 2008 as the ‘International Year of the Potato’. More information on the International Year of the Potato can be found here.