The Sunday New York Times has an interesting article on the humble potato taking on new focus as a potential way to impact the fight against world hunger. Nutritionists, scientists, and aid specialists believe that localized potato farming can help take some of the pressure off of grains which have been prone to recent swings in commodity prices.
“Potatoes are a good source of protein, starch, vitamins and nutrients like zinc and iron. As a crop, they require less energy and water to grow than wheat, taking just three months from planting to harvest. Since they are heavy and do not transport well, they are not generally traded on world financial markets, making their price less vulnerable to speculation. They are not generally used to produce biofuels, a new use for food crops that has helped drive up grain prices. When grain prices skyrocketed, potato prices remained stable.
Beyond that, potato yields can be easily increased in most of the world, where they are grown inefficiently and in small numbers.
Thanks to the “green revolution” of the 1970s, yields of wheat, rice and corn jumped by more than 50 percent in a decade as fertilizers and new planting techniques were used. Potatoes never got that kind of attention.
In poor countries, potato yields are still relatively low, at just one to five tons of potatoes per hectare (about 2 1/2 acres), less than 15 percent the yield in the developed world.”