Plagued by adverse climate change, growing fertiliser poisoning and increasing biofuel production, more and more arable land is losing its peak productivity, triggering a global panic. But if agricultural scientists are to be believed, the answer to this cereal deficit lies in the lowly aloo.
Although this humble vegetable cannot substitute the cereals in our diet, it can nutritionally fortify us in their absence.
Often taken for granted, the potato was officially dubbed the “food of the future” at the recently concluded flagship event of the United Nations International Year of the Potato in Cusco, Peru.
The UN hopes to increase awareness of the potato’s importance in developing countries and its contribution in achieving the Millennium Development Goals of alleviating poverty and reducing hunger.
Dr S.M. Paul Khurana, vice-chancellor of Rani Durgavati Vishwavidyalaya, Jabalpur, and former director of the Central Potato Research Institute, Shimla, argues that potatoes are in fact “God’s blessing for the poor”.
The poor, who are grappling with food price inflation, are forced to compromise on their nutrition. Khurana says if well marketed and managed, the potato can do wonders for any country’s food nutrition security.
Consider this: not only does one hectare of potatoes yield the food value of 2-4 hectares of grain but it yields twice the protein per hectare of wheat also. That’s not all. Almost 85 per cent of this plant is edible — peel and all — compared to just 50 per cent in the case of cereals. Plus, it is so rich in starch, it ranks as the number one non-grain food commodity with the world producing a record 320 million tonnes of it in 2007. A third of this comes from China and India.
India is the world’s third largest potato producer, with a recorded production of 24 million tonnes in 2006. Between 1960 and 2000, production increased by almost 850 per cent. Khurana points out that as of now, Indians are pathetic potato eaters, consuming just 17 kg a year — merely a tenth of what countries like Russia consume. He explains that the vegetable has earned a bad name due to wrong eating habits. But if correctly eaten — boiled, baked, grilled — its high potassium content can help reign in diabetes and other such serious ailments.
Like potatoes, there are other vegetables like soybeans and millets that can provide cheap nutrition in case of a cereal deficit.