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China turns to potatoes for food security

In the land of rice, China is looking at an unlikely tool for maintaining growth and social harmony: The potato.

world Updated: Jun 01, 2010 01:55 IST

In the land of rice, China is looking at an unlikely tool for maintaining growth and social harmony: The potato.

The Chinese government has begun ramping up research, production and training related to the humble spud, and hopes are high that it could help alleviate poverty and serve as a bulwark against famine.

The challenge of feeding a growing nation on a shrinking supply of arable land while confronting severe water shortages has long been a major concern here.

China has to feed one-fifth of the world’s population on one-tenth of its arable land, and the nation’s expanding cities are consuming farmland at breakneck speed. China estimates that by 2030, when its population is expected to level off at roughly 1.5 billion, it will need to produce an additional 100 million tons of food each year.

That statistical reality could change eating habits here.

Potatoes need less water to grow than rice or wheat, and they yield far more calories per acre. In rice-cultivating regions of southern China, farmers can squeeze a round of fast-growing potatoes into their rice fields in between planting seasons.

Ever keen to seize opportunity, Chinese entrepreneurs are turning potatoes into forms more familiar to Chinese palates: buns, noodles, cakes. They are developing exotic varieties and have even sent seeds into orbit, saying that zero gravity makes them more nutritious and charging astronomical premiums for the seeds’ offspring back on Earth.

In exclusive partnership with The Washington Post. For additional content please visit www. washingtonpost.com.

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