LET THEM EAT POTATO

Dozens of international scientists met last month at Neiker Tecnalia, a 200-year-old potato research centre, in Vitoria-Gasteiz, in the Basque country, to discuss advances in potato farming that could be used in poorer countries. They said potatoes have a lot going for them. They are a good source of protein, starch, vitamins and nutrients like zinc and iron, and 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. With governments having trouble feeding the growing number of hungry poor and grain prices fluctuating wildly, food scientists are proposing a novel solution for the global food crisis: Let them eat potatoes. A decade ago, the vast majority of potatoes were grown and eaten in the developed world, mostly in Europe and the Americas. Today, China and India – neither big potato-eating countries in the past – rank first and third, respectively, in global potato production. When the United Nations announced last year that 2008 would be the Year of the Potato, few took it seriously. That was before grain prices doubled and the United Nations World Food Program announced that it needed an extra half billion dollars to buy grain. So now the potato is coming into its own. It is no longer a food fit for peasants and pigs but a serious nutritional aid and an object of scientific study.

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