World Potato Congress

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The main conference hall at the Beijing Badaling (Great Wall) International Conference and Exhibition Center, site of the 2015 World Potato Congress. Photo: World Potato Congress.

[deck]China to host potato industry stakeholders from around the globe in July 2015.[/deck]

Potato industry stakeholders from around the globe will soon be gathering to discuss all things spud-related, and it’ll happen against a spectacular backdrop: the Great Wall of China.

Yanqing County, Beijing City, China has been selected as the site of the ninth International World Potato Congress (WPC) to be held in July 2015. It’s the first time the triennial event will be held in the Beijing region of China. Hundreds of delegates from developing and developed countries, including growers, researchers, producers, traders, processors and manufacturers, will attend this year’s WPC.

It’s the second time the WPC has been held in China since the Congress began in 1993. Back in 2004, it was held in the Chinese city of Kunming.

The organization’s president, Canadian David Thompson, says the 2004 WPC received very positive reviews from the potato community and with the excellent proposal that was submitted, it was decided to return to China for the 2015 event. The Congress will take place at the Beijing Badaling (Great Wall) International Conference and Exhibition Center.

Delegates coming from around the globe will participate in a variety of seminars, presentations by industry leaders, and scientific dialogues. Delegates will also have opportunities to visit local growing and producing facilities. Numerous pre- and post-Congress tours will offer delegates unique opportunities for exposure to the Beijing region as well as numerous other Chinese locations such as Hangzhou, Shanghai, Chengdu, Yangshou and Lijiang.

Up to 2,000 to Attend

It’s that mixture of business and cultural experience that Thompson says makes the WPC so worthwhile, especially when it’s held in China. “We’re actually expecting a total attendance of anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 people,” he says.

A variety of keynote speakers have been lined up to present on such topics as global evaluation and utilization of new varieties and the application of biotechnology in potato breeding.

China is now the world’s biggest potato-growing nation, producing 96 million tonnes on more than 14 million acres in 2013, according to Yan Feng, division director, Agricultural Trade Promotion Center, Chinese Ministry of Agriculture. She adds potato production in China could easily increase 10 to 30 per cent in the next 10 to 15 years.

Feng is helping organize the 2015 Congress, and says it’s extremely valuable for the country. First, she says it helps strengthen co-operation in research and development of new potato varieties. “The potato yields in China have room for improvement, and [currently available varieties are] one of the obstacles,” Feng says.

Secondly, she says the Congress helps introduce sustainable potato production strategies and concepts to Chinese growers. “Commercial potato production in China started late, and [we have only about a decade of] large-scale irrigation, chemical and fertilizing experience, while most potato-growing countries have long histories of commercial production and have accumulated considerable experience. These experiences and lessons are very valuable for China to learn,” says Feng.

Providing this kind of education is one of the key mandates of the WPC, Thompson notes. “We try to bring delegates together so they can chat and discuss potato issues with people from both developed and developing countries.”

For the 2015 WPC event in Beijing, approximately 50 per cent of the delegates will be Chinese potato farmers and local Chinese stakeholders. “The World Potato Congress is aiming to become the No. 1 networking organization for the global potato industry and bring industry players together,” says Thompson.  “The Congress provides the venue for delegates to conduct a great deal of potato business.”

The closing ceremonies of the World Potato Congress will be held at the Great Wall of China.

“In 2003, [total potato acreage in] Yunnan was 450,000 hectares, and in 2013 it grew to 700,000 hectares, and the related processing industry was expanded,” Feng says.

Booming Industry

Significant potato industry developments have occurred in China, and the WPC is credited as one of the reasons, Feng notes. After the 2004 WPC was held there, the Chinese potato industry grew considerably.

It’s likely such benefits could come to Yanqing County as well, where the 2015 WPC will be held. It’s a subdivision located northwest of the city of Beijing near the famous Great Wall. The county consists of 11 towns and four rural townships and has a population of more than 275,000.

“The strategy of Yanqing is to develop environmentally friendly yet high-tech agriculture. The Yanqing government has made the potato a key component of its agriculture,” Feng says. The biggest seed potato company in China now operates out of Yanqing, she adds.

Yanqing has also launched the building of an International Potato Center (CIP) Asia and Pacific Regional Office. In fact, the venue for the 2015 WPC was built with the express purpose of hosting events like it. The facility opened in July of 2014.

“The Chinese have held the World Grape Congress there and the next major event will be the World Potato Congress” Thompson says. “The facilities are beautiful and will certainly meet the needs of our delegates.”

According to Feng, Chinese organizers expect the Congress will be a platform to showcase, to share, to learn and to promote co-operation within the Chinese potato industry. The China Potato Expo and China Potato Congress will also take place there at the same time the WPC is going on. Feng says it’s expected to be the biggest-ever gathering of potato industry stakeholders to be held in China.

For Thompson it is an opportunity to bring not only Chinese potato industry members together, but global stakeholders as well. He says the WPC is actively trying to expand its reach and attract more people from around the world.

“Our board is also global and we are currently looking for an appropriate board member from India — the world’s No. 2 potato producing nation,” says Thompson.

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WHERE ON THE WEB

For a full event schedule for the 2015 World Potato Congress, visit 2015bjwpc.com.

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Canada’s Role in the World Potato Congress

The World Potato Congress (WPC) brings together industry stakeholders from around the globe. Since its inception in 1993, it’s been held in China, Canada, South Africa, Scotland, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the United States.

Despite its global reach, the WPC calls Canada home. Its head office is located in Charlottetown, P.E.I., and Canadian David Thompson is the organization’s president. In addition, one of the WPC’s key advisers is Peter VanderZaag of Ontario’s Sunrise Potato Storage.

In recognition of his years of leadership helping to develop the Chinese potato industry, VanderZaag was awarded China’s prestigious Friendship Award by Premier Li Keqiang in November 2014. The award is the China’s highest honor for achievement by a non-Chinese individual for outstanding contributions to the nation’s economic and social progress.

Over the past 29 years of VanderZaag’s involvement in the Chinese potato industry, a major transformation has occurred in Chinese agriculture — potato production has increased threefold in area and more than doubled in yield per hectare.

VanderZaag credits the hard work and determination of his many Chinese colleagues in accomplishing this massive increase in potatoes. China now is the world’s largest potato producer with nearly 25 per cent of annual global production.

“His knowledge and experience in China is fantastic. He’s a key member of our team,” Thompson says.

In accepting his Friendship Award, VanderZaag recognized the hardworking farmers of China’s Yunnan Province — where the 2004 World Potato Congress was held — and China itself.

“In the 1980s, [Chinese] farmers lived in poverty and struggled to survive,” he noted. “My desire was to see them have better lives for their families. That has come true.”

— With files from potatocongress.org.

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