Potatoes for Sustainable Global Food Security
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Potato is the third most important food crop in terms of global consumption, and it has been highly recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as a food security crop as the world faces a growing population and related problems with food supply. This paper presents data on global potato production, consumption, malnutrition, and hunger; information which helps pinpoint where the resource-poor and hungry live and how the potato and international agricultural research could help improve food security and livelihoods in developing countries. The International Potato Center has used such a targeting exercise to focus its research for development and develop its new strategic plan, in which five out of the six objectives are related to potato.
KeywordsInstitutional innovation Priority setting “Pro-poor” technologies Seed Small-scale farmers Vulnerability
This paper argues, and provides data and information to support the argument, that potato-based systems present increasingly important opportunities for the rural poor, in terms of food security, poverty alleviation, and improved health status. The paper maps potato production and food security in developing countries following an approach developed by the International Potato Center (CIP) based on livelihood indicators (Thiele et al. 2010). This information helps to locate and visualize where the resource-poor and hungry populations live, and how and where international potato research could help improve rural livelihoods. CIP has used such a targeting exercise to focus its research-for-development strategy and develop its new strategic plan, which is briefly described in the last part of this paper. This plan seeks to respond to complex changes in the economic and socio-cultural setting of food production in developing countries and to deliver tangible science-based innovations that increase development impacts on food security.
Global Hunger, Malnutrition, and Agricultural Growth
Proportion of undernourished
Prevalence of underweight in children
Mortality rate of children under five
The GHI ranks countries on a 100-point scale with 0 being the best score (no hunger) and 100 being the worst. The region with the highest 2013 GHI score is South Asia, with an average of 20.7, compared to the world global average of 13.8. Social inequality and low nutritional, educational, and social status of women are major causes of malnutrition in children and have impeded improvements in the GHI score. The situation remains serious in East, Central, West, and Southern Africa (19.2), although it has improved somewhat as countries have become politically more stable and economic growth has resumed on the African continent.
During the 2014 World Economic Forum, in a debate on “Rethinking Global Food Security,” Shenggen Fan, Director of IFPRI, argued that tackling hunger and malnutrition is not only a moral issue but also one that makes economic sense. The world loses 2 to 3% GDP per year because of hunger, while investing US$1 in tackling hunger yields a return of $30.
Today, about 850 million people are hungry, without including several hundred million children classified as malnourished—a group sometimes known as the “hidden hungry.” But the global averages mask dramatic differences among regions and countries, as well as between rural and urban areas. For example, in Latin America where the average GHI is relatively low (4.8), reducing rural poverty has had limited success in many areas. Berdegué and Fuentealba (2011) have shown that while GDP has, on average, increased by 25% across the Latin-American region in the last 30 years, the percentage of rural poor has only dropped from 60 to 52%. In the same period, the percentage of the population that could not meet basic food needs has only dropped from 33 to 29%. Clearly, increasing economic prosperity has not filtered down to the rural poor. Additionally, chronic poverty in rural populations has also exacerbated malnutrition in many countries in the region. An alarming 7% of this region’s children are underweight and 15% have stunted growth. These data show that while economic growth is necessary, it is not sufficient to accelerate reduction of hunger and malnutrition.
Agricultural growth can be particularly effective in reducing hunger and malnutrition since most of the extremely poor depend on agriculture and related activities for a significant part of their livelihoods. In the debate mentioned above on Rethinking Global Food Security, Ajay Vir Jakhar, Chairman of Bharat Krishak Samaj (Farmers’ Forum) in India, noted that farmers do not think in terms of food security at the global level, but in their own households. If support were given to small-scale farmers so they could become self-sufficient, we would solve 40 to 60% of the global food insecurity problem. While policy makers tend to think in terms of global issues and solutions, localized solutions and help from the public and private sectors are needed to support the bulk of farmers who are farming small plots of land and which have a critical role as engines of food productivity growth and social development. By declaring 2014 the International Year of Family Farming, the United Nations acknowledged the importance of family farming in reducing poverty and improving global food security. Localized, technical, and commercial solutions with the support of both public and private sectors are needed in combination with global food security policies.
A critical step in designing agricultural research and development for those in need is to understand where poverty and hunger are concentrated. Potato is cultivated in poor areas in several parts of the world, including the Andes of South America and in China; hence, innovations based on potato science can be a significant vehicle for targeting the poor and hungry as part of a broader set of research and development activities.
The Role of Potatoes for Global Food Security
Access—refers to the ability to produce one’s own food or buy it, which implies having the purchasing power to do so.
Availability—still a problem in areas where food production does not meet population needs, thus raising the question, “Does our planet have the capacity to feed the growing millions whose consumption habits are on the rise?”
Food use and quality—from a nutritional, sanitary, sensory, and socio-cultural point of view.
Stability—in terms of availability, accessibility, and quality over time, this fourth pillar incorporates issues of price stability and securing incomes for vulnerable populations.
Access: Improving competitiveness of farm production and incomes of farmers and other agri-food sector actors (for example, by quality improvement and cost reduction).
Availability: Increasing agricultural production (for example, by genetic improvement, disease and insect pest control, improved cropping systems, minimization of losses, etc.).
Food use and quality: Improving food safety as well as food quality by adding value to traditional local products, e.g., through biofortification.
Stability: It is important to link agriculture and food production to sustainable management of such natural resources as soil, water, and biodiversity.
The extraordinary adaptive range of the potato crop, combined with its relative ease of cultivation and high nutritional value, has led to steady increases in potato consumption in developing countries. In fact, the developing world’s potato production exceeded that of the developed world for the first time in 2005 (FAO 2014). For the last 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in potato production and demand in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, where output rose from less than 30 million tons in the early 1960s to more than 165 million tons in 2007. China is now the biggest potato producer, and almost a third of all potatoes are harvested in China and India.
Targeting to Better Address Food and Nutrition Security with Potato Science
To enhance the impact on the lives of the poor through investment in potato-related research and innovation, it is crucial to identify who the poor are, where they live, and where potatoes are important in local food systems. In areas where potato production coexists with poverty, there is a clear opportunity to use potato as a vehicle to reduce poverty. To achieve optimal impact potential on livelihoods, CIP has prioritized its activities based on a pro-poor research-for-development paradigm in which scientific research responds to specific demands to address the rural poor, rather than a science‐driven paradigm that generates research outputs, which may or may not respond to real needs, and hands them over to partners.
Detailed targeting analysis based on the local importance of the crop is fundamental to this research-for-development paradigm. In this effort, CIP has developed a targeting analysis for potato interventions based on the local importance of the crop and a composite indicator of livelihood (Thiele et al. 2010). Geo-spatial science has progressed significantly over the last decades, which is facilitating the analysis of the spatial coincidence of potato production with poverty, demographic variables, production constraints, and many other considerations and opportunities that may affect where best to target potato science interventions.
Higher-altitude areas of Sub-Saharan Africa (in Ethiopia, Cameroon, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, DRC (Kivu), Malawi, Angola, Nigeria, Mozambique, and Madagascar)
Andean South America (Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia)
Indo-Gangetic basin of southern Asia (Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan)
China, with high production found in several interior provinces (Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Guizhou, Yunnan, Chongquing, Shanxi, Sichuan, Shaanxi, Heilongjiang, Ningxia)
Central and Western Asia (Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan)
This information makes it possible to visualize where the resource-poor and hungry live and how potato-related interventions can provide opportunities to improve livelihoods. In some areas of the world, the potato crop is essential to the livelihood of a large number of people, while in other areas, it is less essential, but still very important for subsistence and income generation. Depending on the local poverty context, potato interventions involving smallholders, especially women, can be aimed at improving productivity and support to subsistence farmers, or expansion of markets and linking smallholders to modern food markets and contributing to increasing returns to labor and generating employment for the local rural populations. CIP researchers are currently refining the targeting activities using updated geographic information on crop distribution, yields, crop-specific agroecological zones, and biophysical maps related to potato.
The best way to reach the poor is to ensure that potato technologies, e.g., varieties, are intrinsically pro-poor. Technologies can be called pro-poor if they increase productivity without a need for additional inputs that increase production costs, for example, resistant varieties with no need to apply fungicides intensively or to renew seed frequently, or varieties suitable for marginal environments, or with nutritional values that fill nutrition gaps. Varietal traits that are considered pro-poor include resistance to diseases such as late blight and yield-reducing viruses (e.g., potato virus Y and potato leafroll virus), drought and heat tolerance, earliness, and high levels of iron and zinc. In areas where resource-poor farmers are seeking access to high-value markets following high rates of urbanization, specific market traits (e.g., frying or storage quality) are of paramount importance. Thus, research should include participatory technology development involving different types of stakeholders.
Much of the existing international agricultural research already includes pro-poor traits, such as for example late blight resistance, breeding for drought, and earliness. Additionally, attention should also be given to micro-nutrient availability, virus resistance, postharvest, and storage conditions, as pro-poor traits, while greater responsibility should be taken for developing strategies for scaling up and out and putting the results of research into the hands of smallholder farmers. CIP seeks to improve current and new networks of public and private partners to develop and transform science-based results into adoptable and accessible solutions for resource-poor farmers. For example, insufficient training and technical support to farmers has been concluded to be one of the main obstacles to integrated pest management (IPM) adoption in developing countries, e.g., for potato late blight management technologies that are typically requested by resource-poor famers (Parsa et al. 2014; Kromann et al. 2014).
It is important to draw attention to the increasing importance of high-value markets. As already explained, potato in many countries should be considered a high-value crop. Changes in the nature of markets for potatoes could potentially discriminate against poor farmers. Supermarkets are growing rapidly in developing regions, and they often have tight quality and volume requirements which small farmers find hard to meet. Engaging poor farmers in these markets will require what it is called institutional innovation. This includes facilitating changes in market arrangements, collective action through farmers’ organizations and credit, and a strong link between social development and agricultural development programs. It is required to strengthen agricultural research organization skills and experience for institutional innovation. There is already experience of important relevance, for example, the Farmer Field Schools, usually associated with building a technical capacity for integrated pest management, but can also contribute to organizing farmers and building social capital for market linkages. The Participatory Market Chain Approach promotes new types of public–private partnerships and builds trust among farmers and other market chain actors (Devaux et al. 2009). Institutional innovation will be very closely linked to technological innovation, and the two types of innovation are synergetic. These are new areas of research that need to be incorporated in the agricultural research agenda; they imply alliances with new types of partners to get optimal positive outcomes and extend potential impact from science-based results.
In order to increase its contribution to poverty alleviation and to food security, and using the results explained above, CIP has defined a new strategic and corporate plan, which aims at focusing efforts to maximize the contribution of potato and sweet potato science to development impact in the medium and long term.
CIP’s New Strategy to Address Global Food and Nutritional Security
A major goal of the strategy is to enhance CIP’s tangible impact with six strategic objectives (SO) that explicitly focus on food and nutrition security in identified target regions by embracing the public and private sectors in an ever more diverse and rich partnership landscape. CIP’s new Strategy and Corporate Plan for the next 10 years will respond and cooperate with the evolving regional and national frameworks that empower countries to own and lead their development. It builds on a solid legacy of CIP achievements, taking advantage of existing strategies and technologies and the targeting exercise mentioned above. Three of the six SO are more research and development oriented and focus on scaling up the value of sweet potato and potato science towards impact. These objectives are closely related to the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR) Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB), gender, and other CGIAR research programs, which involve not only crop-oriented research, but also system-oriented aspects and cross-cutting topics such as climate change, value chains, water management, and policies (see http://www.cgiar.org/ and http://www.rtb.cgiar.org/).
The focus on potato-related strategic objectives is linked with global discussion on new challenges to agricultural research for development, which is being taken by the CGIAR reform and the relatively new CGIAR research programs.
SO 1: Combating vitamin A deficiency with resilient, nutritious orange‐fleshed sweet potato (OFSP). This SO aims at a high contribution to food utilization building on clear evidence that effective biofortification can be delivered by OFSP particularly in Africa and Asia.
The second and third strategic objectives are focusing on potato in two of CIP’s identified target geographies, in Asia and the higher-altitude areas of Sub-Saharan Africa:
SO 2: Enhancing food security in Asia through the intensification of local cereal-based systems with the early-maturing agile potato
The goal is the development and use of heat-tolerant short-duration “agile” potato varieties that can fit into existing agroecosystems, particularly the windows currently left fallow in the different cereal-based systems of Asia. In this way, suitable potato varieties, accompanied with crop management and value-chain interventions could contribute to sustainable diversification and intensification of cereal-based systems in Asia.
Early-maturing agile potato varieties, particularly a 70-day potato for ware and a 90-day potato for processing with resistance to heat and viruses, are a profitable and nutritious complement to low-income cereals in the lowlands and highlands of South China, North Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, and the plains of Nepal and East Pakistan. In Central Asia, the crop offers a valid alternative to the traditional fallow between two consecutive wheat crops, thus creating huge opportunities for potato cultivation. CIP offers elite tropically adapted populations and candidate potato varieties with short growing seasons of 70–80 days in subtropical climates and 90–100 days in temperate areas. These varieties are tolerant to high temperatures and resistant to major virus diseases. They can bring new areas under potato cultivation in cereal-based systems and increase overall food productivity. Short-duration drought-tolerant potato varieties will give flexibility in planting and harvesting in semiarid and arid agroecologies without putting pressure on scarce land and water resources. CIP has selected one promising clone, which can give important economic yield on only 50% of the normal water requirement in the arid agroecology of Rajasthan, India.
SO 3: Improving livelihoods of potato farmers in Africa by tackling deteriorated seed quality through an integrated approach
The overall goal of SO 3 is to significantly increase potato productivity and improve the livelihoods of at least 600,000 smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa within 10 years by the use of high-quality seed of robust, market-preferred, and biofortified varieties. Through multiplier effects, SO 3 expects to impact three million households. This strategic objective aims to improve access to quality seed potato tubers of improved varieties in Sub-Saharan Africa by combining rapid multiplication technologies (e.g., aeroponics or sand hydroponics) with decentralized seed production (e.g., promotion of quality declared seed systems (FAO 2006b; Fajardo et al. 2010)) and on-farm seed maintenance (e.g., positive selection, small seed‐plot technique and improved storage) in an integrated approach (Gildemacher et al. 2011; Schulte-Geldermann et al. 2012). A key element of the approach is to involve the private sector and create entrepreneurial opportunities for young and female farmers, which eventually will lead to a sustainable supply of quality seed at an affordable price to smallholder farmers. SO 3 will continue promoting a three-generation (3G) seed scheme that aims to produce large volumes of high-quality mini tubers from in vitro culture through rapid multiplication technologies, such as aeroponics, in alliance with the private sector, and two field generations to produce basic seed with highly specialized multipliers. For example, in Kenya, the production of certified seed increased from 250 tons in 2009 produced by the public sector to about 4000 tons in 2013, of which about 70% was produced by private seed companies. At the same time, the price for certified seed dropped from 3000 Kenyan Shilling (KSh–US$1 = 85 KSh) to 2200 KSh per 50-kg bag. Additionally, further multiplication by decentralized multipliers provided another 5000 tons of seed of improved quality.
Strategic objectives 4 and 5 are focused on research and seek to accelerate the discovery of game-changing solutions for enhancing food security through root and tuber science in the medium and long term, and by transforming vulnerability to resilience through a multidisciplinary approach of integrated crop management and systems research.
SO 4: Accelerating the discovery of game‐changing solutions for enhancing food securitySO 4 builds on the foundation of knowledge already generated by CIP as well as recent evolving discoveries in genetics, molecular biology, genomics, and cellular biology to facilitate multidisciplinary approaches to achieve game‐changing solutions. These are defined as research products responding to a major agricultural problem with great potential for significant impact on food security. Two of them represent potentially massive productivity gains through the use of elite germplasm and the introduction of multiple genes:
Three additional game-changing solutions prioritized are as follows:
A potato with durable resistance to most significant diseases
A sweet potato with resistance to pests
A potato with broader adaptation to warmer and drier land
New pathogen diagnostics tools based on next-generation technology
New true (botanic) potato seed technology
A disease-free potato can be achieved by pyramiding multiple R genes from cultivated and wild relatives and by manipulating the plant response to pathogen attack. Late blight, PVY virus, and bacterial wilt are the main targets. Already a 3 R gene stack has been introduced into susceptible potato varieties, rendering these highly resistant to the late blight pathogen. Virus resistance will be engineered after isolating corresponding R genes. Bacterial wilt resistance, on the other hand, needs first a deeper understanding of plant–pathogen interactions. Experts envisage modifying the target genes of the proteins released by the pathogen leading to development of the disease. A pest-free sweet potato may be achieved by transferring into its genome genes producing toxic proteins and small interfering RNA that silence specific genes of the pests.
SO 5: Addressing the food security challenge through roots and tubers: transforming vulnerability to resilience
Strengthening food security is the most recent addition to the CGIAR’s new set of high-level objectives, an emphasis that stems largely from recent crises in both food prices and global food security. Yet the dimension that has been least explored or operationalized is stability or vulnerability, that is, changes in food availability, food access, and food utilization caused by socio-economic or environmental stresses and shocks. This SO seeks to understand and operationalize the dynamic concept of food vulnerability in the context of agricultural R&D, develop a framework for its analysis, and design resilience interventions considering shocks types, frequency, severity, and safety nets to reduce food vulnerability and ultimately help to improve food security.
Overall, SO 5 seeks to better understand and overcome the vulnerability to food insecurity issues unique to each and common across diverse sweet potato and potato agroecologies. Vulnerability will be analyzed at different levels: economic, social (e.g., governance, education), environmental (e.g., loss of biodiversity, water deficit, erosion), and health. The participation of women in farming activities will be integrated in these analyses. Areas of intervention in the Andes of South America and countries in Asia, such as Philippines, India, Indonesia, and Bangladesh, where CIP is implementing projects focusing on food security are ideal learning spaces for generating lessons on food vulnerability and resilience. Although the focus will be initially in Latin America and Asia, further intervention sites will be added in Africa in the midterm.
In both South America and Asia, CIP has developed intellectual capital in important related areas, including experience of working from an innovation system perspective with diverse actors; developing participatory methods and approaches for research; social learning as well as for south–south knowledge sharing; and a trajectory of biophysical and social research, including complex systems science, climate–agriculture interactions, predictive modeling, food-based solutions to nutrition, and in situ conservation of crop genetic resources.
SO 6: Conserving diversity for the future: the CIP gene bank
Gene banks are like an insurance policy for the future of agriculture; they conserve the diversity of plant species, offer resources for breeding crop varieties, provide food solutions in times of disaster, and safeguard food supplies for future generations (Hawtin and Cherfas 2003). Gene banks also conserve genetic adaptations proven useful in one species that may someday prove invaluable to others in dealing with future challenges such as climate change. SO 6 has the vision of preserving for utilization the biodiversity of potato, sweet potato, and Andean root and tuber crop (ARTCs) genetic resources held ex situ in CIP’s gene bank and in situ in farmers’ fields to ensure maximum utility of this diversity to support the other SOs and future generations in the quest to ensure food security and reduce hunger. The objective is to maintain the CIP gene bank’s world‐class reputation for excellence, transparency, expertise, and germplasm management to feed the world.
The gene bank is central to the success of all other SOs. It supports and enables the expedient use of diverse genetic building blocks and associated information to ensure global productivity of healthy and secure food. It facilitates the rapid, efficient, and impact-oriented release of strategically placed CIP innovations and products, particularly new varieties, by the conservation and use of the rich global biodiversity of potato (Solanum section Petota) and sweet potato (Ipomoea spp.) and other Andean Roots and Tuber Crops (ARTC).
The CIP gene bank holds a total of 21,0381 accessions made up of 10,343 potato accessions (4354 cultivated, 2507 wild, and 3482 breeding lines); 8149 sweet potato accessions (6420 cultivated, 1179 wild, and 550 breeding lines); and 2546 ARTC accessions (2019 cultivated, 497 wild, and 30 breeding lines). These collections serve as a model for global and national gene banks through innovative research, advanced public database designs, and interactive genomic use of the collections. Genomic fingerprinting allows scientists to identify the diversity of these accessions rapidly and conclusively. Similarly, a complete characterization of every accession provides an assessment of diversity and use through genetic and phenotypic correlations.
Because of the overlap between poverty areas and potato cultivation, there is increasing evidence that improving potato competitiveness can be a pathway out of poverty for many rural people, as shown with data from Asia and Africa where potato production has been growing steadily during the last 20 years and where farmers have responded to increased demand for potatoes. In Africa, it has been mainly by increasing the potato crop area, and in Asia, specifically China and India, that this growth has been supported by policies and research and technology development programs, which contributed to increasing productivity and total production. Potato cropping systems have helped to improve resilience among smallholder farmers by providing direct access to nutritious food, increasing household incomes, and reducing their vulnerability to food price volatility. The targeting analysis based on the local importance of the crop and a composite indicator of livelihood has allowed CIP and partners to focus better their research interventions at global level and target adequate technologies to improve food security and reduce poverty.
As potato plays a dual role in food security strategies as a staple food grown and consumed by poor people and as a cash crop sold in high-value markets, the potato research agenda needs to move from focusing on production constraints and systems to include food systems and food and nutrition security. Because of rapid urban growth in developing countries, the importance of potato in urban markets is growing, which requires also new types of approaches involving new forms of public–private partnerships that need to be linked to technological innovation. Institutional innovation is strongly required and implies alliances with new types of partners to get optimal positive outcomes and extend potential impact from science-based results. The evolution of the research agenda requires to move towards integrative science and development approaches (called “convergence” in other fields), so that solutions do not come from “silver bullets” alone, but from integral interventions that define key entry points (i.e., early-maturing potato) and include work on systems intensification and cross-cutting topics such as climate change, value chains, policies, and gender.
In this evolving context, CIP is implementing a new strategy that explicitly focuses on food and nutrition security in identified target regions to strengthen the development potential of potato particularly in Africa and Asia, without forgetting the Andes of South America where vulnerable agroecosystems exist, especially to climate change, and which is an important region for research on development of resilient food systems with global application.
Data as of October 1, 2013. Collection numbers reported in the past have often been a subset of the collections consisting of accessions that were only Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA), only in vitro, or only available for distribution (identity verified and phytosanitary clean). The numbers reported here represent the total active collections preserved by the CIP gene bank regardless of the category or biological status.
We would like to thank Douglas Horton and Véronique Durroux for valuable observations and suggestions to earlier drafts of this document; CIP’s colleagues Dave Ellis, Marc Ghislain, Elmar Schulte-Geldermann, and Mohinder Kadian for their comments; and Victor Suarez for revising the databases.
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