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China rushes to research its newest staple

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

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An institute co-founded by research agencies and potato processors in China and Kazakhstan has been established in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to study China’s newest staple. 

Members of the institute will seek to cultivate high-quality potatoes that better adapt to different environments and meet market demand in Central Asia.

They will also co-operate in developing technology for cultivation and potato processing.

An autonomous territory in northwest China, Xinjiang forms a vast region of deserts and mountains. It borders eight different countries, among which Kazakhstan is to the the northwest.

While Central Asian countries have rich agricultural resources they lack technology and capital, which they hope can be supported by the research institute.

Meanwhile, China needs to find ways to cope with rising demand for potato-growing land, after the crop was named officially as the country’s fourth staple last year.

Requiring significantly less water than wheat, rice and maize, potatoes produce higher caloric value per acre. Their cultivation has been placed at the centre of China's latest food security and land use strategy.

Agriculture officials are aiming to have 6.66m hectares producing potatoes by 2020, as the crop follows rice, wheat and corn into government planning policy.

A guideline on developing the potato industry, released by the Ministry of Agriculture, said that authorities must ensure that 30% of the potatoes cultivated are varieties that are suitable for food processing. 

China is the world's biggest producer and consumer of potatoes, though per-capita annual consumption is only 41.2kg—far below that of the European Union and the United States, according to ministry data.

The opening of the Xinjiang potato research centre is the second in as many months in China, coming soon after the International Potato Centre-China launched in Beijing to focus on improving root and tuber crop production.

More from China...

DaChan Great Wall powers into East China with two new processing plants

Taiwanese agri-food conglomerate DaChan Great Wall Group will open two new food processing plants in China’s Anhui province by the end of next month as it ramps up expansion in the east of the country.​ 

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Vice-president Dennis Han said better-than-expected growth in the region had boosted the company’s ambitions there. 

We are going to speed up the pace of our expansion in eastern China​” with the help of the new facilities, Han said at an investors’ conference in Taipei.

We have been too conservative in the past and hope to develop a more aggressive investment strategy​,” he added.

The group operates its Chinese business through a Hong Kong-listed subsidiary DaChan Food Asia. 

The offshoot is China's biggest chicken processor, and already has two food processing plants in Liaoning province, one in Tianjin and another in Shanghai.

It is not know how much Tainan-based DaChan Great Wall has invested in the two new plants, nor their production capacity. Their opening will come as part of the company’s strategy to achieve vertical integration in food processing.

The group, which also operates restaurant chains, shopping malls and seafood businesses all across Asia, is also mulling another food processing plant in southern Taiwan to meet growing demand in the domestic market. 

Its existing plant in Tainan has been running at full capacity, Han said, while hinting that he will announce another significant investment next week. 

Jiahe could receive $25m from World Bank to fund expansion

The World Bank's private lending arm is considering a US$25m investment in China’s Suzhou Jiahe Foods.

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According to a regulatory disclosure, Jiahe will use the International Finance Corporation funds to fuel an US$82m expansion strategy. 

The Jiangsu province-based company is China’s leading manufacturer of non-dairy creamer, and also manufactures fresh bakery products and processed food.

As part of its expansion, it has plans to upgrade its non-dairy creamer production lines and set up an R&D centre, a freeze-dry coffee facility and a modern warehouse.

Upon completion, Jiahe’s capacity will increase from 200,000 tonnes per year to 250,000. All the proposed manufacturing expansions will be at its current site in Suzhou.

IFC has made a series of investment disclosures this month, including a commitment to sink US$35m into Sri Lanka-based Agrex, which sources, processes and exports certified organic products from countries in Asia and Africa.

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