NewsBusinessWorld Potato Congress: Confronting Climate Challenges and Cultivating a Sustainable Future

World Potato Congress: Confronting Climate Challenges and Cultivating a Sustainable Future

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Adelaide is set to host the 12th World Potato Congress from June 23-26, 2024. This global event will bring together farmers, researchers, and industry leaders. With the theme ‘Old World Meets New’, participants will discuss and address the myriad challenges and opportunities facing the potato industry.

As the world grapples with climate change and its effects on food security, this congress is timelier than ever, offering a platform for collaborative action, innovation, and identification of sustainable solutions.

Living on a farm in outback Australia, I am no stranger to the impacts of climate change. Here, droughts have become longer and drier, and summer months now reach scorching temperatures. The effects are felt by the landscape and our farming business, by my family and local community. But my story about climate change is not unusual as farmers around the world contend with changing conditions and look for new ways of growing food.

This is particularly true for those who grow potatoes and are involved in the industry. Climate change is exerting profound effects on this staple food crop that plays a vital role in global food security. Increasing temperatures, unpredictable weather patterns, and extreme weather events such as floods and droughts are disrupting potato production in all corners of the globe.

These changes affect soil health, water availability, and pest and disease dynamics, leading to decreased yields and quality. For instance, heat stress can reduce tuber formation, while increased rainfall can lead to waterlogging and rot. These physical changes and challenges also have deep and complex impact on the mental wellbeing of potato farmers, their cultures and communities. The potato industry must adapt to these challenges to ensure productivity as well as the continuation of vibrant potato growing communities.

In response to the climate challenges of our time, research, development, and extension (RD&E) activities are critical. RD&E can drive innovations in breeding climate-resilient potato varieties, improving pest and disease management, and optimising water and nutrient use. Undertaking RD&E with a collaborative spirit that involves farmers, scientists, industry stakeholders, and policymakers, is essential to disseminate these innovations and practices. By working together, these groups can develop and implement strategies that enhance the resilience and sustainability of the potato industry. Furthermore, communication of the importance of the potato to the general public helps more people understand and appreciate this culinary diverse and nutritious food.

Dr. Anika Molesworth is a farmer, scientist, and storyteller. Anika is the author of Our Sunburnt Country, which won the Royal Societies of Australia and New Zealand Writer’s Award for Outstanding Writing on Social Change.

At the farm level, sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices are key to addressing the impacts of climate change on potato farming. Sustainable agriculture focuses on maintaining productive farming systems while conserving resources and minimising environmental impacts. Regenerative agriculture goes a step further, aiming to restore and enhance the health of ecosystems. Practices such as crop rotation, cover cropping, reduced tillage, and organic amendments have been found to improve soil health, increase biodiversity, and sequester carbon, thereby mitigating climate change and enhancing farm resilience. But no two farms are the same, and so solutions will be developed, tailored and tweaked for each situation.

Implementing effective climate solutions requires empowering communities and supporting potato farmers. This involves providing farmers with the knowledge, tools, and resources they need to adopt sustainable practices and adapt to changing conditions. It also means creating policies and programs that support farmer livelihoods and encourage sustainable practices. It also means listening and learning from farmers, because they are the ultimate researchers who are testing and trialling practices every single day. Ensuring their voices are present and heard at decision making tables is critically important to find new innovations and identify the best pathways forward. This kind of community empowerment can help foster local resilience and enable communities to develop context-specific solutions to climate challenges.

The actions we take today will shape the future of the potato industry and global food security. Embracing sustainable and regenerative practices, investing in RD&E, and fostering collaborative action are essential steps towards a resilient and thriving future for this globally significant crop that provides essential nutrition, food security, and economic livelihoods for millions while serving as a versatile staple in diets worldwide. By prioritising these areas, we can create a food system that is not only productive but also sustainable and resilient to the impacts of climate change.

The 2024 World Potato Congress in Adelaide offers a unique opportunity to address the pressing challenges facing the potato industry such as climate change and work together on identifying the best pathway forward. By focusing on RD&E, regenerative farming practices, and inviting many diverse people into the conversation, we can build a resilient future for the potato industry. So, join us at the World Potato Congress because the time for action is now, and the future of the potato industry — and global food security — depends on our collective efforts.

Dr Anika Molesworth is a thought-leader of agro-ecological systems resilience and international farming development. With a passion for rural communities and healthy ecosystems, she is committed to help create sustainable and vibrant rural landscapes now and for the future. She is a Founding Director of Farmers for Climate Action – a national network of nearly 8,000 Australian farmers undertaking climate change action. 

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