Asia, India, China, Russia

The humble potato now seen as a staple for future food security in China

The potential of potato to provide food security is one reason China has undergone remarkable growth in potato production over the last two decades, and China has become by far the largest producer of potatoes in the world, write authors Wang Su and Jian Wang in a paper published in a special issue of the American Journal of Potato Research on April 9.

In 2015, they write, the Chinese Academy of Sciences recommended a strategy of developing and using potato as a staple food for domestic food security. Potato will become the fourth staple food in China, along with rice, wheat and corn.

Historically, potatoes have not been a large part of the Chinese diet. Therefore, efforts to increase potato production for food security and position potatoes as a staple food must include ways to increase consumption by Chinese consumers.

In keeping with the preferences of Chinese consumers, Wang Su and Jian Wang observe, a greater variety of appealing potato products have been developed in China – including potato steamed bread, potato noodles and flour. More than 200 potato products have been developed, such as frozen french-fried potato, potato chips, stackable potato chips, potato cakes, potato puffed snacks, potato liquor, potato beverages and many others.

This has accelerated the demand for raw potatoes. From 2007 to 2016, the annual consumption of fresh potato per year increased from 30 kg to 52 kg, increasing at a rate of 5.6% per year, and there is still room for future growth.

From 2007 to 2016, potato planting acreage increased from 4.5 million ha to 5.6 million ha, although a slower growth trend is predicted for the future. Potato yields increased from 65 million tons to 97 million tons during this time period.

Current production levels in China are even more remarkable considering potato production was less than 10 million tons as recently as 1986. Yield per unit area increased from 15 tons/ha to 17 tons/ha from 2007 to 2016. However, yield per unit area is still below the world average (20 tons/ha), and much lower than in developed countries (40 tons/ha) such as Holland, France, the United States and New Zealand.

Therefore, Wang Su and Jian Wang write in their article, there is the potential for greatly increased yields in China, which in turn would further contribute to the nation’s food security.

“For various reasons, potato has a greater potential to further increase in planted acreage and yields in China than rice, wheat or corn,”
Wang Su and Jian Wang write. “Under existing conditions, we estimate it is possible in the short term to increase the average yield of potato from 17 tons/ha to 22 tons/ha and increase the acreage from 5.6 million ha to 8.0 million ha, which is projected to increase the annual yield by ~79 million tons and help compensate for the inability of grain crops to meet national food security goals.”

The agronomic advantages of potatoes, including cold resistance, drought tolerance, geographic adaptability and high yields can save resources and relieve the pressure to increase grain production, which is an additional way potato can enhance food security in China, the scientists write.

Another reason for the growth in potato production is the result of a concerted effort to reduce poverty.

In China, impoverished areas are mainly concentrated in mountainous regions that tend to have harsher climates, high altitudes, and less developed transportation infrastructure. Potatoes can be grown in these areas and can provide needed calories and nutrition.

According to statistics, among 592 impoverished counties, 549 grow potatoes. In all, more than 70% of the total potato planting acreage is distributed among poverty-stricken areas in China.

Read the full article in the latest issue of the Journal of Potato Research, published by Springer Link here

Corresponding author of the article, Jian Wang, can be reached at jianwang2197@163.com