Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Making potato a staple promotes healthy diet

By Shenggen Fan (China Daily) Updated: 2015-01-16 08:14

Making potato a staple promotes healthy diet

The Chinese staple consisting principally of rice, wheat and corn will soon include potatoes (tudou or malingshu in Chinese), the Ministry of Agriculture said recently. This is a welcome move to diversify Chinese people's staple to a more balanced diet, which should also include high-nutrient food such as fruits and vegetables.

Potatoes are certainly nutritious. If eaten along with their skins, they are a good source of not only carbohydrates, but also vitamin C and potassium. Also, more potato cultivation will help to reduce environmental stress such as water shortage and promote more efficient use of marginal land. But sweet potatoes too should be made part of Chinese people's staple because they are more nutritious with high amounts of vitamin A and beta-carotene.

In 2012, potatoes accounted for 2 percent of the calories consumed by Chinese compared with more than 20 percent for rice and wheat, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization. The government's aim is to ensure that 50 percent of potatoes produced in the country is consumed domestically as a staple by 2020.

The push for more direct potato consumption comes at a time when China faces challenges in food security and nutrition. China is home to 21 percent of the world's population, more than 100 million of whom are deprived of proper nutrition. Malnutrition among children is a big concern because nearly 10 percent of children below 5 years of age suffer from stunted development. Added to this is the rising demand for food.

According to the World Bank the annual demand for grain (rice, wheat, corn and soybean) in China will grow from 600 million tons in 2014 to 670 million tons by 2020. Besides, food imports are growing - for example, rice imports in 2013 were estimated to have been 30 percent higher than 2012.

For the government to achieve its goal, a number of key actions will be needed. Diversifying people's diet to make potatoes a major staple will require a value-chain approach - from farm to table. Beginning with more rigorous research and development, investing in the development of improved potato varieties (especially with regards to nutrient content) will be critical.

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