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Chips are down: Asia faces COVID-19 fries shortage

According to data from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), in 2018 the total potato production worldwide stood at 368 million tonnes, of which almost 189 million tonnes were produced in Asia.

With prices and supply facing uncertainty due to lockdowns and high, panicked demand especially in the APAC region after the COVID-19 outbreak, it might be expected that potatoes would be able to benefit somewhat here – but in reality, there have been multiple factors hindering this opportunity, according to International Potato Center Asia Regional Director Samarendu Mohanty. Pearly Neo reports for Foodnavigator-Asia.

“Due to COVID-19 lockdowns, demand for processing potatoes is now much, much lower everywhere as many foodservice outlets are not allowed to operate, but there has been a major rise in the demand for table potatoes for people to cook at home,” said Mohanty.

“So now everyone wants to switch to sell in supermarkets instead, which normally have little demand – but the supply chain is simply not built to handle this. [Suppliers] are used to taking potatoes from cold storage and bringing directly to the customers, but if going to supermarkets, they’ll have to weigh, bundle, package and so on, which the chain is just not used to doing.”

“What we are looking at is a possible shortage of fries in Asia.”</em>?</p><p>Farmers also face challenges as potatoes need to be sold within one to one-and-a-half months of harvesting, especially in Asia’s hot weather.

“If there are no buyers in Asia, and poor storage facilities, they’re going to be very worried about overproduction,” he said. Farmers need to be extremely accurate about the amount produced, it can’t be too much or too little, so that’s an additional challenge they face as opposed to paddy which can be stored for longer.

Supply chain issues aside, cultural norms also stand in the way of the potato market’s progression.

Read the full report in Foodnavigator-Asia here

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Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher

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