China has been the world’s biggest producer of potatoes for years now. The export displayed a big increase last year. Especially countries like Malaysia, Russia and Vietnam buy a lot of Chinese potatoes. The Chinese government promotes the cultivation of potatoes, but is also looking to make the potato the main component of the Chinese diet. One of the reasons for this is the drought in large areas of China. Crops like rice and wheat are grown a lot in China, but they use much more water than potatoes. Food safety is also a reason for the campaign, due to the increased import of products like rice and wheat.
Jan Gottschall of NAO: "The potato consumption is on the rise in Southeast Asia."
Government promotes potato cultivation
In July 2015, the first Potato Gap China workshop on sustainable potato production and processing in China took place in Harbin. To this end, Chinese and Dutch institutions and companies looked into possibilities to improve the potato production. “The potato consumption is on the rise in Southeast Asia. In countries like China and India, the potato production is also heavily promoted. This is partly related to the environment. The water use in the cultivation of potatoes is significantly lower compared to rice, the biggest competitor to potatoes in Asia,” says Jan Gottschall of NAO, the Dutch potato organization. “Especially in the drier areas in the north and northwest of China, there are good opportunities for the potato production.”
Dutch companies seize opportunity
The growing demand for potatoes in India and China has already led to companies establishing a business in the Far East. For instance, frozen food manufacturer Aviko has a majority stake in Chinese Snow Valley Food since last year. Aviko has also had a joint venture for years with the Chinese government in the centrally located province of Gansu, where potato flakes are produced. Aviko has faith in the development of the Chinese potato cultivation, processing and consumption. The younger generation in particular, they say, is eating more and more fries. In the long run, Aviko wants to process 200,000 tonnes of potatoes into fries each year in China. Trading company HZPC started a joint enterprise with Indian company Mahindra last year. The enterprise will improve the cultivation of seed potatoes in the Indian state of Punjab. HZPC sees a promising market in India. The country consumes 40 million tonnes of potatoes a year, 80% of which is intended for the fresh market. The potatoes are nearly all offered through street sales. The potato production is expected to continue to grow, which means a lot of seed potatoes are required.
Adhering to breeders’ rights
In terms of potato cultivation and quality, there is nothing to complain about China and India. Adhering to breeders’ rights, he says, is still a major challenge. “For us, the most important thing is that the breeders’ rights for the Western varieties are well-managed, so that these varieties can be introduced on a large scale. In Europe, agreements have been made about this, but of course the companies also want to have the assurance that nothing will happen with their variety in the Far East. In China, this is less of an issue, and in India, breeders’ rights is a very hot topic.”