1. The potato is the world’s most important tuber vegetable, with a vital but often under-appreciated role in the global food system. It is a staple food that contributes to 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, especially in developing countries. It has a wide range of uses: as a staple food, as a cash crop, as animal feed, and as a source of starch for many industrial uses. The crop is ideally suited to places where land is limited and labour is abundant, conditions that characterize much of the developing world. Moreover, potatoes are a highly productive crop and produce more food per unit area and per unit time than wheat, rice and maize. Potatoes are becoming increasingly important for Asia and the Pacific region, which, like many other parts of the world, is facing enormous challenges today because of soaring food prices. In the light of the above, it is recommended that every effort should be made to realize the full agricultural potential of this crop in the region.
2. Remarkable progress has been made in potato production and productivity levels in certain countries of the region, whereas in other countries progress is limited. The opportunities for further development of the potato industry appear to be very good. However, at the same time the problems to be addressed are considerable. There is, therefore, a need for countries in the region to consider taking appropriate action to address the existing problems to the extent possible.
3. The average yield of potatoes in general in Asia and the Pacific region is below 20 tons/ha compared to the physiological potential of 120 tons/ha and the realized yield of more than 40 tons/ha. There is both a wide intracountry and intercountry yield gap in the region. For example, yields as high as 70 tons/ha have been reported from New Zealand compared to 6.5 tons/ha in Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Similarly, there is wide variation in yield among different regions of bigger countries like China and India. Keeping in view the yield gap and diminishing per capita availability of agricultural land in the region, it is a great challenge to improve the potato yield. This could be achieved through dissemination and adoption of existing technologies, and serious efforts need to be made in this direction.
4. A major constraint in potato production is the lack of suitable varieties. Although considerable progress has been made in this direction by several countries in the region, in many others the progress is very limited. Hence, a strong varietal improvement programme for each country, to identify suitable varieties for specific locations, is needed and it should receive high priority.
5. Quality seed is one of the most important elements in successful potato cultivation. Potato seed is usually the most expensive single input to potato cultivation accounting for 40 to 50 percent of production cost. Shortage of good quality seed is recognized as the most important factor inhibiting potato production. Therefore, availability of quality planting material of improved and desired varieties in adequate quantities is a major issue that needs to be addressed. Although efforts to strengthen the formal seed system are critical, these need to consider effective integration with the informal seed system (private seed sector, progressive farmers, co-operatives, NGOs etc.) also.
6. Since potato seed production is a technically challenging enterprise, private participation should be encouraged for production and distribution of quality seed. The private sector should be given some assistance (e.g. in the form of incentives) if needed, for establishing the seed production system. There also has to be an assurance that micro propagation techniques are adopted for the production of quality seeds. Moreover, there should be appropriate institutional mechanisms to monitor the seed multiplication activities at private as well as public farms. This institution should be responsible for maintaining uniform quality parameters and health standards of potato seed and for estimation of the demand/supply situation in the country.
7. There is a need to improve the skills and knowledge of research and extension officers in most of the region’s countries along with the crop management skills of potato growers. This could be achieved by professional development of scientific and extension personnel, on-farm training, seminars, field days, study visits and publications. Moreover, farmer education and demonstration of available technologies in farmers’ fields, particularly in the low income food deficit countries (LIFDCs) is very important. CIP and the FAO Regional Vegetable IPM Programme published good quality training materials in 2006 and these should be put to good use in potato production training of trainers and farmer education programmes. Therefore, efforts in this direction need to be considered. LIFDC countries could be prioritized in case external assistance is needed.
8. Identification of success stories of potato growing in different countries would be useful for replication in other countries of the region. This could be integrated along with a database developed for information through the CIP.
9. There are at least 20 LIFDCs in the region. There exists a major opportunity to introduce potatoes in rotation with cereal crops to increase the availability of potatoes to meet food security. More specifically, potatoes can increase total food production in rice-potato cropping systems and this kind of cropping system could be promoted where possible.
10. The potato crop with early varieties of 80 to 90 days can fit well in various intensive cropping systems. India has already successfully demonstrated this practice through a number of early potato varieties. These Indian varieties could be utilized by other Asian countries having similar agroclimatic conditions. For this purpose, CIP could be entrusted to identify the available early varieties in the region and their suitability to similar agroclimatic conditions.
11. Rice is the most important crop in Asia. However, in marginal areas, rice-based cropping systems have relatively low returns. Improving the current cropping systems to enhance their sustainability to the extent possible, and shifting marginal areas out of rice into other more profitable crops such as potatoes is seen as a solution. Alternatively, flexible cropping systems for upland farmers that feature production of more income elastic goods like potatoes are a means of diversifying their sources of income.
12. Up till now, scientists have not been paying sufficient attention to the growing threat of transboundary pests and diseases. There is a need to be better prepared for future pest and disease threats affecting the productivity of food and income generating crops such as potatoes. Therefore, transboundary research, particularly for emerging diseases and pests, needs to be given priority in the region to ensure an effective biosecurity system.
13. Indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides has resulted in the emergence of more aggressive pests and diseases because of resistance development, residual problems in food and drinking water, and ecological imbalance as a result of the elimination of beneficial microorganisms and insects. Therefore, for sustainability of the potato crop yields, these biotic stresses need to be managed through ecofriendly measures supported by need-based and judicious use of chemicals to achieve high economic returns without disturbing the ecological balance and without causing unnecessary pollution of natural resources. Potato Integrated Pest Management (IPM) has been well researched and proven to be a set of economically viable and environmentally safe key technologies to increase crop productivity. FAO and its associated national IPM programmes have trained thousands of potato growers in season-long FFSs across Asia. This IPM farmer education work needs to continue and be strengthened to allow more potato farmers to reap the benefits of growing healthier and safer potato crops.
14. There is a growing awareness of organically produced food. Organic farming is one of several approaches for sustainable and environmentally friendly agriculture. Potato farmers could have a share of the world organic market, which is growing at the rate of 15 to 20 percent every year. Valuable information on organic potato production has already been developed in China and India. It would be a worthy endeavour to put together information and successful case studies on organic potato production from various countries. Moreover, the national IPM programmes should explore functional linkages with the organic potato production sector so as to allow more farmers to access the demanding and more lucrative organic potato markets.
15. Significant post-harvest losses when handling potatoes is a problem. This is likely the result of a number of factors that include lack of appropriate storage facilities and unsatisfactory handling and packaging systems. Appropriate training on post-harvest handling techniques and storage facilities that would assist in reducing post-harvest losses needs to be carried out.
16. There are diverse potato utilization patterns in the region — from being a staple food to a high-value vegetable and key ingredient in various processed products. As mentioned before, the crop contributes to multiple food security and livelihood goals of the poor. These range from food security needs of farming households in remote mountain regions to cash-generating opportunities of market-oriented potato producers closer to urban centers. Overall, the crop’s livelihood importance cuts across various segments of the region’s poor, thus the notion of a single potato farmer stereotype is inapplicable. It is, therefore, recommended that targeting of research and development interventions be fine-tuned so that these are aimed at particular categories of poor potato farming households. The crop’s distinct livelihood roles in each target group determine the needs and opportunities for enhancing the potato’s contribution to poverty alleviation. In addition, these guide efforts to identify and introduce appropriate technological, socio-institutional and policy innovations. Accordingly, it is strongly recommended that the governments include the promotion of potato crop development in the FAO-Government National Medium Term Priority Framework (NMTPF), as appropriate.
17. In the wake of the liberalization of the global economy, several national and multinational companies involved in marketing of table, seed and processed potatoes have started contract farming in different countries. Contract farming has the potential of reducing the risk and uncertainty in potato price fluctuation through a stable and sustained market. It also contributes to technology transfer by providing new and better farming skills to the contract farmers. Keeping in view the advantages of contract farming, the governments of the region must provide adequate policy support to this system of farming. Adequate safeguard measures need also to be taken to monitor the production activities of these companies so that the farmers are not exploited. This requires capacity development support for poor farmers in enhancing their access to contract growing and similar large-scale market opportunities.
18. The export and import of potatoes mainly takes place within European countries and four other countries, namely Canada, Egypt, Turkey and the United States. The trade among these countries accounts for 80 percent of the global potato trade. Asia’s share in the export and import of potatoes is only 9.8 percent and 11.6 percent, respectively. The countries of Asia and the Pacific region can supply fresh potatoes year round because potatoes are grown throughout the year in one or other part of the region, unlike European countries where potatoes are grown only during the summer period. The poor trade performance of potatoes among the countries of the region can be attributed to several factors such as trade barriers, lack of marketing infrastructure, lack of seed production system and poor market intelligence. A database on potato exports, price, grade standards, phytosanitary standards, processing standards, consumer preferences, etc. needs to be prepared for all importing countries so that such information is readily available to the exporters and importers.
19. A potato cooperative movement could be started in each country involving the growers, self-help groups and development agencies to organize potato growers into national level potato federations. This type of arrangement would provide a network for linking the production activities with storage, distribution and supply to the endusers. These mechanisms for collective action by potato growers, and their coordination with other market chain actors, are crucial to the development of the potato sector in each country.
20. There is limited exchange of knowledge and experiences concerning potato research and development in various countries of the region. National workshops are a possible way of increasing the understanding of the crop in the various countries. These should follow the Regional Workshop on Potatoes held at the FAO regional office in Bangkok, Thailand, on 6 May 2008. Various stakeholders such as research scientists, extension staff and growers could be included in these national workshops. FAO’s Regional IPM Programme will pay special attention to potato production and protection training within the context of ongoing support to national IPM farmer education programmes in the Asian region. The IPM programme will also pay special attention to IYP - 2008 and make available electronic copies of potato IPM training materials on its forthcoming programme Web site (www.vegetableipmasia.org).
21. The information contained in FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning Service’s bimonthly report entitled Crop prospects and food situation could be expanded to include the potato also, since potatoes have already become an increasingly important crop contributing both to food security and income generation for farmers.