China plans to increase its potato output to 120 million tons a year from the current 70 million in terms of food production and security, a top industry body has been told.
The Lima-based International Potato Center (CIP in its Spanish acronym) was briefed by Chinese board member Dr. Song Jian about the plans. They have the support of the highest levels of government, for tons per year, as it informally leads a global movement of countries realizing the benefits of the Chinese government.
The Center is helping the Chinese with a two-fold strategy: increased productivity and better long-term utilization of resources, says Director General Dr. Pamela K. Anderson.
Part of the immediate problem is the low productivity of China's already voluminous potato-growing, just some 15 tons per hectare as opposed to multiples of that in Europe and the United States.
"The reality still in the developing world is that we have low productivity per hectare and one of the challenges is to get that increased," said Dr. Anderson.
This is to be addressed by better seed systems and disease resistance. The former could produce a 30-percent increase in yield. If ways could be put in place to better manage late blight, bacterial wilt and virus diseases, there could be "another significant increase," says Dr. Anderson. Although she did acknowledge that getting, and keeping, better systems in place was not without challenges.
Beyond that was also the bigger issue and the second part of the strategy of rethinking the system to make it more productive which means trying to get the potato better established in different farming cycles.
"We should be able to reintroduce potatoes into the rice-rice rotations," she said.
Although she is among the first to acknowledge that there is "no one size fits all strategy."
Helping matters here is the 70-day potato-a challenge CIP set itself but one that will likely have major implications as and when it happens. The basic idea is to create a potato that matures within 70 days, as this could then be planted within the two rice crops without limiting either.
Calling it "early days," Dr. Anderson estimated that it would take five years for such a variety to hit the market.
China is very much to the forefront, but not alone, in trying to find ways to tackle the problem of food security, hence, the reason it has turned its attention to potatoes.
The first part of the problem it faces is the sheer numbers involved. China's population is expected to stabilize at around 1.5 billion up from the current 1.3 billion. Beijing is aware that if it has to buy it on the world markets, such demand will cause epic price-distortion. This explains why it has set the goal of 95 percent food self-sufficiency.
"It needs each year, over the next two decades, 100 million tons of new food," Dr. Anderson said, adding "half of that will come from potatoes."