Project Launched to Develop Hardy Varieties
The Spanish research organization Neiker-Tecnalia is reportedly leading an international project to develop new potato varieties that are tolerant to the effects of climate change. The research group will also identify existing cultivars capable of resisting the negative effects of climate change, including global warming, extreme climatic events and the global spread of certain pests and diseases. The research consortium is comprised of eight research institutions from seven countries: Spain, Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Costa Rica and Uruguay. The researchers will be selecting varieties that respond well under conditions of drought, extreme cold and excessive heat, and show resistance to late blight in particular. Growing more adaptable and hardy potato varieties will boost the income of small-scale farmers in traditionally poor and subsistence Latin American communities.
Potato Processors Courting India
Some of the biggest international potato processors have devoted resources and attention to developing nations, such as India, Russia and China over the past few years, and clearly view these economies as lucrative markets for their products now and in the future. Processors moving into India have recently been in the media spotlight.
In May, it was announced that U.S.-based potato processing giant J. R. Simplot plans to enter India through a 50-50 joint venture with Himalya International, a leading Himachal Pradesh-based food processing company. Simplot already has a strong presence in China, Australia, Canada, Europe, Korea and Central America. Although Himalya is chiefly known for its production of frozen mushrooms, cottage cheese, and breaded and battered appetizers, the new company will concentrate on potato-based products such as mashed potatoes, specialty potatoes, french fries and vegetable nuggets. The products will be launched across India. Simplot will provide technical assistance for growing specialty potatoes and processing of the products.
It was announced in June that Dirty Potato, an all-natural snacks and chip manufacturer in the United States, has plans to enter the Indian market in a big way, teaming up with Max Foods in India. A new range of kettle-style potato chips will be the first to enter the marketplace. It is reported that Indian consumers are leaning toward all-natural snacks and there is exceptional growth potential in this sector.
In June, PepsiCo launched the new potato chips brand Lehar without much fanfare. This is an important development, since the new products are 40 per cent cheaper than PepsiCo’s signature brand, Lays. This new range of chips will be more competitive with local Indian chip brands.
Potatoes and the Health Debate: Good and Bad News
The debate over the health benefits—or lack thereof—of potatoes has continued non-stop in the public media over the last few months. A number of research studies point toward the health benefits of potatoes as part of a balanced diet. But a recent study has set yet another fire of doubt ablaze about the nutritional value and health benefits of potatoes, suggesting the consumption of potatoes and potato products negatively affect health and lead to weight gain.
On the positive side, the U.S. Potato Board announced in May its partnership with Jen Cafferty, founder of the Gluten-Free Cooking Expo and president of Gluten-Free Life with Jen. According to a press release, only 19 per cent of Americans rate potatoes as excellent for being gluten-free. In fact, potatoes are 100 per cent gluten-free, the USPB pointed out. “Potatoes are a great choice for people who otherwise have to cut carbs out of their diet. Potatoes are a gluten-free dieter’s dream. They are fresh, natural and versatile,” said Cafferty.
Research presented in April at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Conference in Washington, D.C., demonstrates that consumption of non-fried white potatoes by children does not displace other vegetables from children’s meals. Researchers studied more than 11,500 children, (aged five to 18 years,) and found that children’s weekday lunches, which included white potatoes, generally had an increased amount of other vegetables than did weekday lunches without white potatoes. The research team concluded that potato consumption in children’s meals leads to higher overall diet quality.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, studied overweight men and women for 12 weeks to measure the effects of a reduced-calorie modified glycemic index diet with the addition of potatoes. Three groups comprised of randomly selected persons were formed, each given a diet that included five to seven servings of potatoes per week. Results showed that all three groups lost weight.
However, a study released on June 22 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that forgoing a 1-ounce bag of potato chips each day in favour of yogurt can save almost a pound of weight gain every four years. Researchers from Harvard concluded that the single worst food for weight gain may be french fries. The researchers found that fries contributed to an extra 3.35 pounds of weight gain every four years. A day after the study’s publication, the USPB released a statement saying that the study “perpetuates unfortunate myths and misconceptions about the potato. Singling out the potato as a cause of weight gain is misleading, and contrary to existing research.”
African Potato Investment Project to Benefit Thousands
From Tanzania, it was reported in May that the Tony Elumelu Foundation and Heirs Holdings Ltd. signed an agreement for an impact investment in Mtanga Farms Ltd. The African philanthropic organization and the investment firm have pooled resources to undertake an ambitious project aimed at producing high-quality potato seed. The seed will be distributed among thousands of smallholders in Tanzania, and should contribute to the economic benefit of no fewer than 125,000 farmers.
It was reported in East African Business Week that no new potato varieties had been registered locally in the last decade. The deal is said to mark the first time an African philanthropic organization and an investment firm have jointly engaged in such a large-scale project with a significant number of beneficiaries from the farming community. The establishment of a viable potato seed industry should be instrumental in enabling farmers to increase their crop yields threefold.
British Potato Industry Wary of Flea Beetles
British potato growers have been warned against the introduction of flea beetles into the potato industry. Although flea beetles are currently not a problem in the United Kingdom, authorities are concerned that this pest might be introduced via imported potatoes from Portugal and Spain. Flea beetles, which are native to North America, are very serious potato pests, and have recently been found in Portugal and Spain, causing serious crop damage. The adult beetles feed on the foliage, producing small, scattered holes, which can occasionally cause enough damage to depress yield. The larvae feed on the root system, and some species feed on the tubers themselves, which causes the most serious damage. Flea beetles are unregulated in the United Kingdom, so there are no restrictions on trade. According to the Food and Environment Research Agency, this means there is a real risk of the pest being introduced when infested potato consignments are received in the United Kingdom. Growers were asked to voluntarily notify either FERA or the Scottish government if they plan to import potatoes from Spain or Portugal.
China Sees Bright Future for Potato Production
According to a report published by the Chinese newspaper People’s Daily, output of the country’s three main foods—rice, wheat and corn—may suffer a 37 per cent decline in the second half of this century if climate change continues. The threats climate change pose for China include shrinkages of arable land, water shortages and extreme weather. A research project looking at root and tuber crops as a means to ensure an adequate food supply, is currently under way in China. Last year, the government signed an agreement with the International Potato Center (CIP) to open a major research centre in Beijing. Part of the centre’s mission is to develop potato varieties that grow quickly and can adapt to regions throughout China. The government will provide subsidies to farmers who grow high-yield seed potatoes. It is reported that Xie Kaiyun, a leading potato scientist at CIP’s Beijing office, said increasing the production of root and tuber crops, especially potatoes, has much more potential than rice, wheat and corn. He believes an average yield of 30 tons per hectare nationwide will not be difficult to attain.
New South African Classification System for Table Potatoes
Researchers in South Africa have completed a classification system for potatoes based on the textural attributes of the most popular varieties grown and consumed in that country. Hettie Schönfeldt and Nicolette Gibson, from the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, and Christine Leighton, a sensory food consultant, were assisted by an experienced panel from the sensory laboratory of the Agricultural Research Council in Pretoria during the research project. The project was funded by the national potato organization Potatoes South Africa.
“This classification system for South African potatoes, based on scientific research, will provide consumers with accurate and practical information regarding the culinary uses of different potato cultivars,” says Schönfeldt, the team’s lead. “For the very first time in South Africa, we are assisting consumers to select an appropriate potato cultivar for a specific use.” The aim of the project was to develop a classification system for potatoes with the purpose to guide consumer choice and understanding of potatoes. The system identifies three basic types of potatoes—waxy, waxy/floury and floury—with distinct uses for each. The types will be identified and colour-coded on the bags for ease of use by consumers. Further details on the system are available from Schönfeld and her team at [email protected] or telephone (+27) 83 458 2757.
Industry Consultant and Writer