In a world of agflation with grain prices continuing to climb higher as developed nations prolong a love affair with bio-fuels, perhaps the humble spud provides a credible and viable solution to the crisis that rising food prices is having for hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people.

2008 has been designated by the United Nations as the International Year of the Potato and this week, Food scientists are meeting in Cusco, Peru, to explore ways of incentivising producers to expand world potato production to ease the strain of surging cereal prices on the world’s poorest developing countries. Since 2005, potato output from the developing world has outstripped that of advanced richer nations. There has been a trend decline in subsistence production and a rapid growth in exports of fresh potatoes.

The battle is on to raise food yields as a means of feeding an ever-growing population at a time when so much areage is being given over to producing grains for bio-fuels. The potato is crop that food scientists say produces more food on less land than maize, wheat or rice.

A report on the Cusco conference in today’s Financial Times says that

“The Cusco conference aims to confront price uncertainty by supporting better methods of linking developing country producers, who are usually small-scale farmers, to commodity markets.”

World potato production has never been higher and average prices are rising. But in some countries and regions - notably in Bengal in India, a huge glut of production has caused prices to collapse below cost leading to dire problems for many small scale producers. The pattern of demand in advanced nations is away from fresh potatoes towards processed food involving the crop - where the value added is also higher for food manufacturers.

Year of the Potato

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