In the next two decades, the world population is estimated to grow on average by more than a hundred million people per year. More than 95 percent of that increase will occur in the developing countries, where the pressures on earth, water and other natural resources is already intense. The potato is the most important root and tuber crop in the world. It is a major carbohydrate in the diet of hundreds of millions of people in the developing countries. The crop is fundamental in the diets of populations in countries in South America, Africa, and Asia.
The potato is the third most important food crop in the world, after rice and wheat. Since the early 1960s, it has outstripped all other food crops in the developing countries in terms of growth in production area, and this trend is expected to continue. The potato yields more nutritious food more quickly on less land in harsher climates than any other major crop: up to 85 percent of the plant is edible human food, while for cereals the figure is around 50 percent.
Potatoes are rich in protein, calcium and vitamin C and have an especially good amino acid balance. A single medium-sized potato contains about half the daily adult requirement of vitamin C; other staples such as rice and wheat have none. Boiled, it has more protein than maize, and nearly twice the calcium.
Potatoes can be harvested in the tropics within 50 days of planting, a third of the time it takes in colder climates. In highland areas of southern China and Vietnam, the potato is emerging as an off-season crop; planted in rotation with maize, it brings relatively high prices at the market. Similarly, in the lowlands of Bangladesh and eastern India the potato’s importance as a winter cash crop is rising dramatically.
Potatoes contribute to health by providing calories and providing nutrients. Potatoes are a valuable source of nutrition in many developing countries, contributing carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals to the diet. Research is underway to increase the vitamin content of modern potato varieties, using biotechnology to boost the micronutrient level in the tubers.
Section of potato plantation in Kenyan highlands at the vegetative growth stage