Jeremy might want us to call it the year of the frog, but when the calendar gets around to 7 February 2008 we'll actually be in the Chinese Year of the Earth Rat, which does sound rather apt. But the United Nations have other plans. A few months back they launched the International Year of the Potato (IYP) to raise the profile of Solanum tuberosum.
An Andean native for some 8,000 years the spud only found its way to European plates in the 16th century to quickly conquer the globe soon after. To the point that it is now the planet's number four food crop (nudged out of the top spot by rice, wheat and corn). Half of its 2006 production of 315 million tonnes was plucked from the soil of developing countries.
And this unassuming tuber is seen as having a strong role to play in developing countries 'coz it can produce "more nutritious food more quickly, on less land, and in harsher climates than any other major crop up to 85 percent of the plant is edible human food, compared to around 50% in cereals." A single tater can give you you half of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C and a fifth of your potassium while also being a rich source of carbohydrate energy. Potato eating, per capita, has halved in the Europe in the past 40 years, but it's increasing in developing countries, with some gusto in Asia (nearly one third of all potatoes are now harvested in China and India). That's not to say the developed world has given up on potatoes. Oh, no. We apparently munch our way through more than 11 million tonnes of factory-made french fries annually.
And when bored with the spud we put it to work doing other useful tasks. Potato starch ends up in the pharmaceutical, textile, wood and paper industries as an adhesive, binder, texture agent and filler. And even oil drilling firms use it to wash boreholes. Which is kinda ironic because if you had 44,000 tonnes of potato processing waste like peels and so on you could produce 4 to 5 million litres of ethanol fuel. ::International Year of the Potato
See also Potato Day.