Can the Potato Feed the World?


Photo credit: Reuters/Enrique Castro-Mendivil/Files

With the cost of wheat and rice bursting through the roof, all eyes are turning to the humble spud as a nutritious staple that could cheaply feed a world increasingly ravaged by hunger.

The potato has plenty going for it, despite its derision by the anti-carbohydrate movement: It requires very little water, matures in as little as 50 days, and can yield between two and four times more food per hectare than wheat or rice. A great source of complex carbohydrates, potatoes only have 5 percent of the fat content of wheat—that is, if you don't smother your tubers in butter. (Mmmm, butter...) Potatoes also have one-fourth of the calories of bread, and when boiled, have more protein and corn and nearly twice the calcium. Plus, they contain vitamin C, iron, potassium, and zinc.

As we move toward a reality where there simply isn't enough food to feed the world, many prominent voices—including the United Nations, which declared 2008 the "Year of the Potato"—are saying that the potato is part of the solution.

Frustrated by the doubling of wheat prices in the past year, the Peru government has begun a program encouraging bakers to use potato flour to make bread. "We have to change people's eating habits," Ismael Benavides, Peru's agriculture minister, tells Reuters. "People got addicted to wheat when it was cheap."

Here's a brief look at what's happening in the rest of the world:

1. India: Has told food experts it wants to double potato production in the next five to 10 years.

2. China: A huge rice consumer that has historically suffered devastating famines; has now become the world's top potato producer.

3. Sub-Saharan Africa: The potato is expanding more than any other crop right now.

4. Latvia: Sharp price rises caused bread sales to drop by 10 percent to 15 percent in January and February, as consumers bought 20 percent more potatoes.


See also: Potato Provides Path to Merge Modern and Indigenous Knowledge