H.E. Carlos M. Velasco *
Saenkaew, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives of Thailand,
Dr He Changchui,
Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific of the
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,
Representatives of academic and research institutions,
Dr Pamela K. Anderson, Director-General of the International Potato Center,
Heads and representatives of international organizations and regional agencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,
In my capacity as Ambassador of Peru to the Kingdom of Thailand allow me to express the gratitude of the Government of Peru to the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific for organizing this international workshop dedicated to the commemoration of the International Year of the Potato - 2008. Also, my thanks go to the Director-General of FAO, Dr Jacques Diouf, for supporting this Peruvian initiative that was co-sponsored by the Latin American and Caribbean Group of Countries in the UN system. As a result, the United Nations General Assembly at its sixty-eighth session in December 2005, declared 2008 to be the International Year of the Potato.
As is known worldwide, the potato is one of the most important contributions of ancient Peru to the human race. In this sense, I would like to highlight some key facts that we consider indispensable for understanding the multiple dimensions of sustainable potato production and development.
For the inhabitants of Peru, the potato has been the “bread of life” for centuries. Taken by the Spaniards to the Old Continent, the potato helped to support the population explosion in Europe in the nineteenth century. During the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, Ireland survived primarily on potatoes. Furthermore, in the same period the potato was the most useful food crop during the times of war and other calamities in Europe and Latin America. In the world today, the potato is considered to be the third most important food crop after rice and wheat.
Potato production and consumption contribute to many aspects of society and should not be looked at in isolation, but in the contexts of sustainable agriculture and food systems. The potato is the world’s most important tuber vegetable with a vital but often underappreciated role in the global food system. It is a staple food that supplies the energy and nutritional needs of more than a billion people worldwide. Potato cultivation and post-harvest activities constitute an important source of employment and income in rural areas and for women in developing countries. It can be used as a food security crop, as a cash crop, as animal feed, and as a source of starch for many industrial uses. However, there are still many technical problems and development-related issues that directly affect potato production and the potato-based food systems. Responding to these challenges is essential for development of potato crops and for sustainable potato production, long-term food security, human nutrition, and poverty alleviation.
The world’s population is expected to grow on average by more than 100 million people a year over the next two decades. More than 95 percent of that increase will occur in the developing countries where pressure on land and water is already intense. A key task facing the international community is, therefore, to ensure the food supply for present and future generations while protecting the natural resource base. Potato production could be an important part of the efforts to meet those challenges, as the crop is vital to the food security of hundreds of millions of people in the developing world.
The potato crop is ideally suited for places where land is limited and labour is abundant, conditions that characterize much of the developing countries. Moreover, the potato is a highly productive crop. It produces more food per unit area and per unit time than wheat, rice and maize.
As has been pointed out by FAO, there is no doubt that potato is important for Asia and the Pacific region. Over seventy percent of the world’s poor people live in rural areas in this region, and depend largely on agriculture for their daily food and income.
I am confident that the outcome of this important workshop, which counts the participation of distinguished regional experts, can shed some light on long-term programmes of potato crop development in the countries of the region. For my country and the Latin American region as a whole, it is imperative to share the knowledge and acquired experience with our Asian friends. Peru is deeply committed to strengthening the support for national development and management strategies for the potato sector, through the International Potato Center (CIP), a research organization founded in 1971, with its headquarters in Lima. The Director-General of the Centre, Dr Pamela K. Anderson is here with us today and will be the keynote speaker for this workshop. I firmly believe that only through a joint effort between Asia and Latin America, will we be able to achieve sustainable growth and to reduce and eventually eliminate poverty in our regions.
* H.E. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Embassy of the Republic of Peru, 16th Floor, Glas Haus Building, No. 1, Sukhumvit 25, Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok 10110, Thailand.