How do you get a country to change its national diet? That’s what China has been trying by introducing potato as a staple as part of an effort to improve food security. In this episode of The Conversation Weekly, the presenters of the podcast talk to three experts about why countries need to shift what their citizens eat, and what the optimum diet for our planet might be.
In an accompanying article published by The Conversation, it is noted that Chinese farmers plant the largest amount of potatoes in the world, and the country produces about 20% of the global potato output. But while fresh potatoes are a traditional part of the Chinese national diet, they’re viewed as a vegetable rather than as a staple, and China’s per capita consumption of potato is below the global average.
In 2015, the Chinese government decided to try and change that. It introduced a policy to promote the potato as the country’s fourth staple alongside rice, wheat and maize. As Xiaobo Xue Romeiko, a professor at the University at Albany, State University of New York in the US explains, behind the strategy lay concerns over food security and the availability of arable land. “Potato is more versatile and it can be grown in marginal land which is not suitable as our arable land,” she says.
Potatoes are also less energy intensive to grow and, according to her research, have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food production in China, particularly if it introduces varieties with higher yields.
Other countries may need to follow China’s lead. As pressures mount on the global food system thanks to climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, food security has become a central issue for many more governments.
“At the moment the food system really is under the highest stress,” says Paul Behrens, associate professor in environmental change at Leiden University in the Netherlands. In 2022, the UN’s food price index, which measures monthly changes in international prices of a basket of food commodities, has hit record highs.
Source: Credit The Conversation.
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This episode was produced by Mend Mariwany and Katie Flood, with sound design by Eloise Stevens. It was written by Mend Mariwany. Gemma Ware is the show’s executive producer. Theme music is by Neeta Sarl.
Photo: Credit Xiaolong Wong on Unsplash