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Potatoes 'could solve food shortage'
By Alex Spillius in Washington
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 16/04/2008
The potato has been touted as a solution to the global food crisis. Increasingly derided in the West for contributing to expanding waistlines, the vegetable is being rediscovered as a nutritious crop for the developing world.
Researchers at the International Potato Centre, in Lima, the Peruvian capital, suggested that the growing problem of food supply due to rising prices and the production of crops for biofuel rather than food could be alleviated by an increase in potato cultivation.
"The shocks to the food supply are very real and that means we could potentially be moving into a reality where there is not enough food to feed the world," said Pamela Anderson, the centre's director.
She said that for populations struggling to feed themselves, the potato was "a good option for both food security and also income generation".
Potatoes can be grown at almost any elevation or climate and require little water.
They mature in as little as 50 days and can yield between two and four times more food per hectare than wheat or rice.
Calling it a "hidden treasure", the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation recently launched the International Year of the Potato at a conference in Peru.
Prices of basic foods have soared recently, prompting riots around the world. The UN has placed 37 countries, mostly in Africa, on a "critical list", facing shortages of supply.
China, a huge rice consumer that historically has suffered devastating famines, has become the world's top potato grower. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the potato is expanding more than any other crop.
The potato, which was first domesticated in South America 8,000 years ago, is a good source of complex carbohydrates. It also contains vitamin C, potassium, iron and zinc.
Belarus is the world leader in consumption, at 745lb per person in 2005.