How a modest potato became the fourth element of China's food security
Having appreciated the full potential of potatoes, China over the past two decades has significantly increased the production of this crop and has become the largest potato producer in the world.
Back in 2015, the Chinese Academy of Sciences recommended that the authorities adopt a strategy for the development and use of potatoes as a staple food to ensure the country's domestic food security. In 2016, the Chinese government issued the "Guidelines for the Promotion of the Development of Potato". Subsequently, provinces and cities also adopted appropriate policies to improve production and increase demand for potatoes.
The propagandists were faced with the task of positioning potatoes as a staple food by the Chinese in every possible way.
According to the preferences of Chinese consumers, a wider variety of attractive potato products have been developed, including steamed potato bread, potato noodles and flour. Over 200 potato products, such as frozen french fries, potato chips, potato pies, potato snacks, potato liqueur and all sorts of other entrancing goodies, were brought to market.
This accelerated the demand for raw potatoes. So potatoes in China became the fourth staple food, along with rice, wheat and corn, historically not being the main part of the Chinese diet.
From 2007 to 2016, the annual consumption of fresh potatoes in China increased from 30 kg to 52 kg, increasing at a rate of 5,6% per year, and there is still room for future market development.
From 2007 to 2016, the area under potatoes in the PRC increased from 4,5 million hectares to 5,6 million hectares, and a slow growth trend is projected in the future.
During this time, the potato crop increased from 65 million tons to 97 million tons.
The current level of production is even more remarkable, given that potato production in China was less than 10 million tons more recently in 1986.
Crop per unit area increased from 15 tons / ha to 17 tons / ha from 2007 to 2016.
However, the achieved yield is less than the world average (20 tons / ha), and much lower than in developed countries (40 tons / ha), such as the Netherlands, France, the USA and New Zealand.
Thus, there is the potential for a significant increase in potato yields, and scientists are putting effort into this.
Potato sown areas are relatively concentrated in China, with 49% of the sown area in Northern China, where one crop is harvested per year.
39 percent are in the southwest of China, where both single and double cleaning are found.
5 percent falls on Central China, where two crops are mainly harvested.
Finally, 7% of the potatoes are grown in southern China, including Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan and Taiwan, where they harvest two crops.
The short growing period and wide adaptability of the potato make it suitable for various areas and types of climate in China, allowing you to get fresh produce all year round.
For various reasons, potatoes have greater potential for further increasing sown areas and yields in China than rice, wheat or corn.
Under existing conditions, in the short term, one can expect an increase in the average potato yield from 17 tons / ha to 22 tons / ha and an increase in sown area from 5,6 million ha to 8,0 million ha. According to analysts, further growth in potato production will help compensate for the inability of crops to fully cover the nutritional needs of the population, taking into account national food security goals.
The agronomic benefits of potatoes, including frost resistance, drought tolerance, geographical adaptability and high productivity, can save resources and be distracted from more expensive cereal production.
Potatoes as a factor in the development of poor territories
Another reason for the growth in potato production is the result of concerted efforts to reduce poverty.
In China, poor areas are mainly concentrated in mountainous areas, where a rather harsh climate prevails, and transport infrastructure is not enough. Growing potatoes will help provide people with the necessary nutritional calories.
In general, more than 70% of the total potato planting area is distributed among poor areas of China.
Over the past ten years, the government has focused on combating poverty, in particular through the development of the potato industry in these regions. This should not only provide food for residents, but also provide opportunities for increasing the incomes of numerous small family farms in poor areas where potatoes are more profitable to grow than rice, wheat, soy or corn.
Healthy and nutritious
Scientists say potatoes provide complex carbohydrates to meet energy needs and contain a wide range of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. This composition is very popular with Chinese consumers, among which healthy food is in fashion.
With rising incomes in China, more and more people have become interested in the relationship between nutrition and health.
For example, the nutritional value of various crops, including buckwheat, beans, and millet, is now officially recognized in China. The topic of healthy eating is constantly covered in the press, and thanks to the Internet, information is gaining wide coverage.
Recipes of Chinese dishes with potatoes differ from those generally accepted in Europe and the USA, where potatoes are often cooked in butter or consumed with fried meat, which differs from the Chinese consumption model. It is not accepted to eat potatoes in butter in China.
What does China need for further development of the potato industry
The limitation for potato production in China is that there are only a few zoned varieties, while more is needed for optimal production in local conditions.
Therefore, additional efforts are required to use the resources of germplasm in order to obtain new varieties for the PRC.
Virus-free seed potatoes are another problem, as they are very expensive in China. Experts believe that it is necessary to establish the production of improved, basic and commercial seeds, including the introduction of appropriate virus detection and quality control systems.
Finally, the development of the Chinese potato processing industry is needed. Currently, local processors account for only 5–10% of the potato production, while in the United States more than 70% of the potato crop is processed.
Additional research and development of infrastructure is needed for the transportation and storage of potatoes, which are not easy to store or transport, partly due to the high water content. Fresh potatoes sprout easily, and their quality may deteriorate when transported over long distances. When transported in frozen form or in the form of starch, the cost increases significantly.
Historically, government food support policies have focused on rice, wheat, and other crops, but have been less applied to potatoes.
In the future, the PRC government should provide the same support for potatoes as for grain.
(Source: link.springer.com. Authors: Wang Su, Jian Wang).