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Dr S.K. Pandey*

1.  Introduction

The cultivated potato originated about 8 000 years ago in the Andean range of South America and by the nineteenth century had spread to almost all continents. In fact, Charles Darwin, the greatest naturalist of that time, encountered the potato everywhere, from the sterile mountains of Central Chile where a drop of rain does not fall for more than six months, to the damp forests of the southern islands. He was highly fascinated by the remarkable adaptability of this plant during his 1839 voyage aboard HMS Beagle. Today, the potato is the world’s fourth most important food crop and by far the most important vegetable for billions of people across the world. Although the potato is grown by people throughout the world, its production in Asia and the Pacific region has increased faster than in any other part of the world during the last 30 years. Potatoes were grown on 8.7 million ha in the region, producing about 137.14 million metric tons (MT) with an average productivity of 15.68 MT/ha in 2006 (Table 1). The share of the region in the world area and production of potatoes was 45.38 percent and 42.76 percent, respectively. Although, the two most developed countries in Asia — Japan and the Republic of Korea — and the two most developed countries in Oceania — New Zealand and Australia — have experienced the most significant increases in productivity, the average yield in Asia and the Pacific region is low. Potato productivity in the region varies widely from 2.50 MT/ha in Timor-Leste to 45.33 MT/ha in New Zealand with an average productivity of 15.68 MT/ha, a little less than the world average of 16.64 MT/ ha.

The rapid expansion of potato cultivation in the region is the result of better adapted potato varieties and the cultivation compatibility of the potato with other important crops, especially rice and wheat. The introduction of improved, short duration varieties of wheat and rice has provided a niche for the potato crop in this region. However, the major reason for the expansion in potato production has been the desire by farmers to satisfy expanding markets and changing consumer preferences. This region consumes almost half of the world’s potato supply. However , the annual per capita potato consumption is still extremely modest (25 kg) when compared to Europe (80 kg) or the United States (58 kg), reflecting the fact that the crop is still considered a high status vegetable in the region as opposed to a dietary staple in European countries. The processing for the emerging snacks and fast food industry is a growing source of additional potato demand in the region.

2.  Trends of potato production in Asia and the Pacific region

Three broad bands of potato cultivation in the region are clearly visible. One runs from west to east across the subtropical lowlands of the major river basins in South Asia and includes Bangladesh, India and Pakistan; the second traverses the interior of China starting at the Myanmar border in the southwest and ending at the Siberian border of Russia in the northeast and includes China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Myanmar; and the third is typified by high productivity in the Oceania island continent region and includes Australia and New Zealand.

On the subtropical lowlands of South Asia, the potato has become a highly productive food crop within a short period of time. The potato’s explosive growth has placed India as the world’s third largest potato producing nation, with production of around 24 million MT in 2006. Between 1960 and 2000, potato production in India increased by almost 850 per cent. The emergence of the potato as an important vegetable crop in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of India reflects the synergy between government and private sector investment. Expanding irrigation infrastructure, supported by the government, made cultivation in the cool post-rainy season possible. Private sector investment in large cold storage facilities greatly increased the availability of ware potatoes during the hot summer and rainy season months and kept seed potatoes in a reasonable physiological state for the following year’s planting. Public supported agriculture research led by the Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI) in India generated practical impact through the development of location-specific improved varieties and production technologies, and through the production of an adequate quantity of healthy planting material.

Table 1. Potato production in Asia and the Pacific region in 2006



(000 ha)


(Million MT)















Democratic People’s Republic of Korea








Islamic Republic of Iran
















New Zealand












Asia and the Pacific region








In Bangladesh, the potato has become a highly successful October to March winter crop with a production of 4.1 million MT in 2006. This placed the country fifth in Asia and fifteenth in the world in terms of the amount of potato produced. Potato production in Bangladesh is mainly concentrated in the Dhaka district. Potato cultivation in Pakistan is restricted to a few thousand hectares and the lion’s share of potato production comes from the Punjab region, where spring and autumn crops account for 85 percent of the total harvest. In the decades since independence, the potato has become the country’s fastest growing staple food crop and production rose from 1 million MT in 1995 to 1.57 million MT during 2006.

China is the world’s largest potato producer, and also emerging as an important global supplier. In China, the potato is an interior and highland crop. Its production has increased nearly fivefold since 1961. Most of the potatoes are for human consumption at 30 kg per capita per year. Potatoes are important to China not only as a staple food, but also as a source of income, especially for farmers in mountainous areas with poor soils. In northern China’s Inner Mongolia and Shanxi provinces, sales of potatoes account for more than half of rural household earnings. Potatoes are also cultivated in southern and eastern China in rice fallows during the winter season to get the benefit of higher seasonal and regional market prices. However, cultivation in these rice fallows is constrained by frost, and the crop requires cultivation under plastic.

Japan is at number six in Asia and the Pacific region with the production of 2.6 million MT of potatoes in 2006. Two-thirds of this came from the northern island of Hokkaido, which had a very high yield of 41 MT per hectare. There has been a steady decline in potato production in recent decades. The potato is also an essential food security crop in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In 2006, it produced an estimated 2 million tons, placing the country among Asia’s top ten producers.

Since its introduction in the nineteenth century, the potato has adapted well to the cool climate of New Zealand. The island country produced abount half a million MT of potatoes from an area of just 11 000 ha in 2006, with an average yield of 45 MT per ha. A commercial yield exceeding 70 MT per ha is not uncommon in the country. This has fueled strong growth in the potato processing sector in the country (300 000 MT were processed into French fries and crisps in 2006) with huge potential for fresh and frozen potato exports. Potatoes are grown across the Australian continent, from the southern temperate island of Tasmania to tropical North Queensland with production exceeding one million tons a year. More than 60 percent is processed into frozen potato products and crisps, and around 37 percent is marketed as fresh potato.

Among the Near East Asian countries, Iran is the world’s number thirteen potato producer and the third in Asia, after China and India. In 2006, the country achieved an all-time record harvest of 4.8 million MT, with per hectare yields averaging more than 25 tons. Turkey is the Near East’s biggest producer after Iran, with an output of almost 4.4 million MT and a yield of 28.5 MT per hectare in 2006. Near East and Central Asian countries heavily rely on European cultivars and seed. Efforts to expand potato production in tropical island economies like Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and others have not been successful. Potatoes are produced in very small areas in these countries. However, in these countries the potato: rice price ratios typically exceed one, indicating a strong and unsatisfied market demand for potatoes. Also, the consumption of potatoes and potato products is growing rapidly in these countries on account of economic development and changing lifestyles.

3.   Priorities for potato research and development

In Asia and the Pacific region, the challenge of producing more food is complicated by the limited amount of arable land. In fact, in some countries land resources for food production have been decreasing because of rapid urbanization and industrialization. The challenge of sustainable growth in agriculture is felt deeper in this region since it accounts for more than 75 percent of the worlds’ agricultural population. It is also the biggest and most rapidly expanding food producing region with the largest agricultural workforce. However, the region is far less productive than the Western world. The global competition under the World Trade Organization regime necessitates that the region should come up with better quality and bigger volumes of agricultural products. It is, therefore, imperative that technology and research be tapped to their fullest to address the challenge of global competition. Analyzing constraints and priority needs is essential for developing strategies towards global competitiveness and the sustainable production of potatoes.

The agro-ecological characteristics and farming practices adopted by the people of the region are mostly similar. Also, the region is largely inhabited by poor farmers and potato cultivation is done mainly on small and marginal landholdings with low levels of productivity. Hence, a joint effort to increase potato productivity will be beneficial for all the countries in the region. Besides, rapid technological advances in varietal improvement, agrotechniques, plant protection, storage and processing, etc. in countries like Australia, China, India, Japan and Turkey offers wide scope for regional cooperation in potato research and development.

3.1   Varietal improvement

Improved yield and quality, resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses, and improved environmental adaptation are the primary needs of the region. Except for a few countries, average potato yield is below 20 tonnes/ha in this region. There is a huge gap in yield among the countries in this region. For example, a yield as high as 70 tonnes/ha has been reported from New Zealand compared to 8 tonnes/ha in Kazakhstan. In most countries a highly intensive cropping system is followed, as a consequence of which it will be impossible to bring new areas under potatoes. Hence, the only way to increase potato production in the region is yield improvement. A modest improvement in yield will make the region the world’s leading potato grower. The need for stable and high-yielding varieties acceptable for the fresh market is a high priority for this region. The demand for processed potato products is also increasing in the region, especially in East Asia and Southeast Asia. Therefore, improved processing varieties suitable for French fries, flakes and flour production are strongly needed in the region.

Late blight can be ranked as the biggest biotic stress limiting potato productivity throughout the region. A second important biotic stress problem in Asia is viruses. The economically significant potato viruses are PVX, PVY and PLRV. Bacterial wilt, caused by Ralstonia solanacearum, is a soil and tuber-borne disease that has proven difficult to control especially in East Asian and Southeast Asian countries. Lack of a resistance source has hampered the effort of breeding for introgression of bacterial wilt resistance. The potato tuber moth infestation is a major concern for potato storage, especially in the case of small and marginal farmers.

Climate change resulting from global warming is likely to pose a serious challenge to potato production, particularly in the tropics and subtropics. An analysis of potential impacts of climate change found that Asia and the Pacific region was the most vulnerable potato-growing region of the world. Heat and drought stresses are likely to be important abiotic problems in the region. Cold stress is also be an important constraint for some high altitude potato cultivation in China.

Keeping in view the multidimensional constraints, there is a strong need for introducing earliness in potato varieties. Earliness serves several purposes such as increasing cropping intensity, reducing the crop’s exposure to pests and diseases and allowing farm families to harvest the crop during a lean period in the seasonal crop cycle. Seed dormancy to fit into the local cropping calendar is also a priority need for the region. The need for long-day adapted varieties is important for central and northern Asia.

3.1.1   Research priorities

3.1.2  Development priorities

3.2   Seed production and multiplication

The major constraint on potato production in the region is the inadequate supply of reasonably priced, good quality seed potatoes of the desired varieties. Seed potato is usually the most expensive input to potato cultivation, accounting for 40 to 50 percent of the production cost. Moreover, a high rate of degeneration causes the seed to deteriorate after a few multiplications. Thus, by the time the “improved” seed reaches the farmer, it is already seriously contaminated by viruses and tuber-borne diseases. In the tropics, the rate of seed degeneration is more rapid than it is in the temperate zones because of higher aphid populations and adverse storage conditions. The lack of seed storage methods suitable for small-scale farmers is also a major constraint in the region.

Therefore, ensuring seed availability and seed quality is the priority need for the potato crop in the region. Seed production, which includes technologies for rapid multiplication and disease elimination, as well as farm production and seed management such as seed certification and distribution systems altogether need immediate attention. The true potato seed (TPS) technology has also a great potential in this region wherein the cost of seeds is negligible when compared to seed tubers. Moreover, it can save the entire transportation and storage cost of seed tubers. The TPS technology is already popular in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Viet Nam. However, this technology is beset with the problem of seedling survival, longer crop duration and production of non-uniform tubers of smaller size as compared to those from seed tuber crops.

3.2.1  Research priorities

3.2.2  Development priorities

3.3 Crop production

The potato is grown in multiple cropping systems in rotation with other vegetables or cereal crops in many parts of the region where farm size is declining with population growth and cropping intensity increasing with expanding irrigation. Except for a few countries, there is a wide intracountry and intercountry gap between actual and potential production of potatoes in the region. The potato crop is also highly input-intensive and requires high doses of water and fertilizers. However, the overuse of chemical fertilizers in many countries has led to the depletion of soil fertility and the contamination of groundwater. Similarly, global warming and overuse of water for irrigation have resulted in the depletion of groundwater tables and the occurrence of droughts. Therefore, improved management of natural resources and optimization of water and fertilizer use are essential for sustainable potato production.

3.3.1  Research priorities

3.3.2  Development priorities

3.4  Plant protection

The potato is prone to many diseases and insect pests. Since the potato is largely propagated by tubers, there is a great risk of introducing alien pathogens or pests into the region through seed tubers. In fact, most of the potato pathogens that are now prevalent in the region are introductions from Europe. Since most of the countries in the region are geographically contiguous, there exists a bigger threat of large-scale spread and destruction by new virulent pathogens as a consequence of natural occurrence or bioterrorism. Potato late blight caused by Phytophthora infestans is the most devastating disease of the potato having the potential of causing 40 to 50 percent loss to the farmers. Tackling late blight should be the top priority of the region and should preferably be the joint effort of the countries in the region. Furthermore, the use of large quantities of pesticides by the farmers, especially for the control of late blight in potatoes, has created the problems of groundwater pollution, toxic residues in table potatoes, resistance development in pests and ecological imbalance.

A second important pathogenic problem in the potato is viruses transmitted mainly by aphids. The most economically significant potato viruses are PVY and PLRV, whereas PVX is generally not important alone but only in co-infection with PVY. Bacterial wilt is a major problem, especially in East Asian and Southeast Asian countries. Potato tuber moth, aphids and the Colorado potato beetle are important insect pest problems in the South Asia and Central Asia regions.

3.4.1  Research priorities

3.4.2  Development priorities

3.5 Post-harvest management

Asia and the Pacific region has witnessed very rapid growth in the area planted during the last three decades in response to the rapid growth in the demand for potatoes. Unlike European countries, the potato is largely produced in most of the Asian countries in winter and stored during the long hot summer. The potato being a semi-perishable crop rots at higher temperatures. The storage constraints become more acute as one moves from north to south in Asia. This requires the storage of potatoes in cold storages at 2 to 4 oC. Although India and some other countries in the region have sufficient cold storage capacity, there are many countries where cold storage capacity needs to be expanded to provide a boost to potato cultivation. However, cold storage involves substantial costs and farmers in the poor Asian countries cannot afford these. There are a number of traditional low-cost and non-refrigerated storage structures which are in use in many countries of the region and these could be adopted in other countries with similar climatic conditions.

Although processing opportunities are expanding all over the region, the extent of potato processing in the region is far behind that in European countries. There are several reasons for this such as lack of year-round supply of fresh potatoes, lack of suitable potato processing varieties, lack of potato processing industries and lack of appropriate linkages for processing. Therefore, improvement of potato storage and processing technologies are priority needs for better post-harvest management and utilization of the potato crop.

3.5.1  Research priorities

3.5.2  Development priorities

3.6  Potato trade and marketing

The export and import of potatoes mainly takes place within European countries and five other countries, namely Canada, Cyprus, Egypt, Turkey and the United States. The trade among these countries accounts for 80 percent of the global potato trade. Asia’s share in export and import of potatoes is only 9.8 percent and 11.6 percent, respectively. The poor trade performance of potatoes among the countries of Asia and the Pacific region can be attributed to several factors such as trade barriers, lack of marketing infrastructure, lack of seed production systems and poor market intelligence. These impeding factors also lead to lower returns to the producers and discourage further investments for higher production. Hence, there is a need to strengthen the market infrastructure like cold chain, surface transport and shipping facilities in these countries.

3.6.1  Research priorities

3.6.2  Development priorities

3.7  Others

The potato crop is among the highest receivers of fertilizer and pesticides in developing countries and an impact study of these chemicals on health and the environment should be carried out urgently.Moreover, stronger capacity building for upgrading skills of the potato research and development community is required for sustainable potato development in the region.

3.7.1Research/Development priorities

4.  Conclusions

The potato is an important commodity in the Asia and the Pacific region, and plays an important role in the region’s food security because of the crop’s short vegetative cycle. Potato production and use expanded more in this region than in any other region of the world during the last three decades. More importantly, an emerging consensus points to the strong potential for continued rapid growth in the years ahead. However, low potato productivity, declining per capita arable land, perpetual late blight epidemics, inadequate availability of quality planting material, depleting soil fertility and falling groundwater tables, lack of adequate cold storage facilities and potato processing industries, and lack of market integration for potatoes are some of the major bottlenecks in potato development in the region. With respect to demand, a major source of uncertainty is the long-term trend in per capita potato consumption of the rice-eating peoples of South Asia and East Asia.

Breeding for processing, heat tolerance, yield improvement, and resistance against pests, use of advanced techniques for healthy seed production, optimization of input use, adoption of advanced diagnostic tools for pathogen detection, use of ecofriendly technologies, and preparation of a database of major potato markets are some of the important research priorities for the region. The development of indigenous R&D systems for national seed production programmes in each of the major potato producing countries, establishment of a regional potato laboratory, pest risk assessment, and strengthening of quarantine offices are vital development priorities for potatoes in the region. The development of cold chain, popularization of traditional storage systems, market integration, the development of linkage mechanisms for farm-to-market supply chains, and use of IT-based modern tools for technology transfer are also be imperative for potato development in the region. Exchange of advanced breeding materials and seeds of suitable varieties, and capacity building through faculty and farmer exchange programmes could serve as a positive force towards regional cooperation in the region.


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* Director, Central Potato Research Institute, Indian Council of Agricultural Research 9ICAR), Shimla – 171001, Himachal Pradesh, India.

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