A switch to spuds in a country where rice is prominent could cut greenhouse-gas emissions. China’s ambitious plan to make the potato a staple crop could slash greenhouse-gas emissions — if the country’s diners sacrifice some of their rice consumption.
Rice cultivation requires heavy use of water and fertilizer, and gradually degrades the soil. Seeking a sustainable and nutritious way to feed China’s ballooning population, the government implemented a policy in 2015 to double potato yields and add potatoes to the Chinese diet.
Jun Bi at Nanjing University in China and his colleagues examined the policy’s environmental implications and found that potatoes grown in China have lower greenhouse-gas emissions and water demand per calorie than do other crops, such as maize. Extrapolating from historical data, the researchers estimate that, from 2015 to 2030, greenhouse-gas emissions from Chinese farming of staple crops could fall nearly 9% if the government meets its potato goals and plants the crop in the most suitable places.
But if potato fields displace rice paddies and the population doesn’t shift to a more potato-heavy diet, rice imports could increase. That would mean higher environmental costs because of transportation emissions, the authors warn.