Saturday, March 1, 2008

I Say Potato, You Say ...

The CC loves the Economist. They get all down and dirty about detail in a way that very few appreciate.

2008 in the International Year of the Potato, and that brings us to what they have to say.

MENTION potatoes in the United States and most people immediately think of Idaho, where more than a quarter of the country's crop is produced. In Europe, Ireland and its famine or Poland and its vodkas come to mind. But nowhere is prouder of its potatoes than Peru, where they were domesticated more than 7,000 years ago. The country is home to up to 3,500 different varieties of edible tubers, according to the International Potato Centre, whose headquarters are near Lima.

The United Nations has designated 2008 as the “International Year of the Potato” and not surprisingly Peru hopes to use this to draw attention to itself and its crop. Alan García, the president, has ordered that a government-sponsored programme of free breakfasts for poor families should serve bread made from a mixture of potato flour with (expensive and mainly imported) wheat. He also wants barracks, hospitals and prisons to start serving chuño, a naturally freeze-dried potato that is traditionally eaten by Andean Indians. Boiled chuño and cheese are said to have replaced sandwiches at cabinet meetings.

The government has joined forces with the potato centre to organise an international roadshow to promote the spud, starting this month. Apart from a giant foam-rubber model of a potato, the roadshow will include demonstrations of recipes by leading chefs.

But perhaps the propaganda should start at home. Many Peruvians eat more rice than potatoes; the country even imports frozen chips for use in fast-food restaurants. Only 25 varieties are grown commercially in Peru. Domestic consumption of spuds is about 90 kilos (200lb) per head a year, according to Ismael Benavides, the agriculture minister. That is barely a quarter as much as Belarusians, the world's champion potato-eaters, manage to chomp through. Nowadays Peru produces only 3.3m tonnes a year, or barely 1% of world output. “Peru needs to re-identify with the potato, because we have turned our back on it for too long,” says Mr García.

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