Potato named as China’s newest staple

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Related tags: Cereal, Maize, Starch, China

Five centuries after it was first introduced in China, the potato has finally been approved as a staple food and production is set to increase, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. 

By 2020, 7m hectares of the crop will have been planted, with 30% of this to be processed into staple food, an MOA document predicts, on top of of the current 56m hectares of land currently producing potatoes. In 2014, China grew over 95m tonnes of fresh tuber.

Beijing a year ago began to assess classifying the potato, which it considers a grain, as its fourth such staple after rice, wheat and corn. 

As a cheap source of nutrition, officials believe the potato will play a key role in their drive to increase food security. Though total grain output has increased in volume in each of the last 12 years, China still faces considerable pressure on its food supplies.

According to an assessment by the National Bureau of Statistics and CCM, a Chinese firm of analysts, the country’s total output of grains has struggled to keep up with demand, and it now imports an increasing amount of corn, wheat and rice, reaching 103m tonnes last year.

By 2020, the World Bank predicts that the total demand for grain in China will reach 670m tonnes and 700m tonnes by 2030. 

With a huge international grain inventory and plummeting prices that in China are much lower than the cost of production, Beijing is seeking to tap into the potato’s easy growth and storage characteristics, seeing it as a “backup grain​” that will help maintain supply and demand for domestic grains through a turbulent period in the international market.

In term of resource use, potatoes are more flexible than other grains, which are currently limited in terms of space and water supplies, according to Lu Xiaoping, deputy director of International Potato Centre.

The resistance of potatoes to the environment is much better than that of other grains. For example, the potato performs better at the dry, high-temperature and low temperature conditions. Also, the potato saves more water in planting​,” said Lu.

Though China leads the world in output and demand for potatoes, its yield and average consumption is much lower that the world average. At 41.2kg, the country’s per capita consumption is far less than in Europe and North America.

The MOA expects to increase yields to 19.5 tonnes per hectare in the next five years, and to 30 tonnes per hectare in the coming decade.

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