How Potato Becomes One of Staple Foods in China?

After introduced to China since 5 centuries ago, potato is finally approved to be a food staple in China.

​​​​​After introduced to China since 5 centuries ago, potato is finally approved to be a food staple in China.

China will further boost potato production to make the tuber one of the nation's staple foods, the Ministry o​f Agriculture (MOA) said on 23 Feb. 2016.

By 2020, China will have more than 6.67 million hectares of potato planting areas, 30 percent of which can be processed into staple food, according to a document released by the MOA.

Potato consumed as a staple food will account for 30 percent of all output by then, the statement said.

In fact, earlier in Jan. 2015, the Chinese government had already put forward the idea of making potato as a food staple, hoping that the unspectacular potato would become the fourth staple grain in China after the other three staple grains -- rice, wheat and corn.

Potato is already the fourth staple grain after rice, wheat and corn in the world and planted in over 150 countries.

With the increasing grain output in China in the past few years, such a food strategy in China has captured attention all around the world. According to some foreign media, China has regarded the cheap potato as the way to ensure its food security in the 21st century.

Why did China look for new staple food?

In 2015, the output of grain in China has realized “the excessive growth in 12 years”, which also reached a historical high to 62143.5 tonnes. Under such a good circumstance in the grain output, it confused the world when China had been looking for new staple food in the past few years.

Yu Xinrong, vice minister of MOA, explained that though the total output of grain in China had kept increasing, China was still facing quite a lot of pressure.

According to National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and CCM, the “excessive growth in 12 years” of China grain output began in 2003. At that time, the total output was 430 million tonnes with the average grain consumption of 334kg. The output of grain was barely enough.

In 2009, the total output was 484 million tonnes. However, the total grain consumption reached to 497 million tonnes. The grain produced in China could not match up with the grain consumption in China.

The output of grain in China increased excessively, so did the import volume and the grain demand.

In the past few years, the import volume of corn, wheat and rice had kept growing. In 2012, the import volume of corn reached to 52.07 million tonnes; wheat, 36.89 tonnes; and rice, 23.16 tonnes. However, in 2010 and 2011, the import volume of corn was only 15.7 million tonnes and 17.5 million tonnes.

As of Oct. 2015, the import volume of grain in China reached 103 million tonnes.

It is predicted by the World Bank that the total demand of grain in China would reach 670 million tonnes in 2020 and 700 million tonnes in 2030.

Therefore, Central Economic Conference in 2013 had prioritized “ensuring the food security” in the six economic tasks for 2014.

Besides ensuring the domestic grain output, it is inevitable for the Chinese government to look for a new staple food to ensure food security.

Why potato?

Currently, the inventory of the international grain was huge with the plummeting prices. The selling prices of the grains both in the world and in China were much lower than the costs. Therefore, thanks to potato’s easy-to-grow and storable characteristics, potato can be a backup grain to maintain the supply and demand of domestic grains under the turbulent period in the international market, pointed out Xu Zhenyu, vice dean of School of Economics, Beijing Technology and Business University.

Moreover, in the past few years, restricted by the resources of cultivated land and fresh water, the growth of the output of three staple grains corn, rice and wheat have been limited.

In term of the planting areas, potato is qualified to be a food staple in China. China has become the first country in producing and consuming potato in the world. The planting area of potato in China in 2014 was 55.7 million hectares, with the output of fresh tuber of over 95 million tonnes, according to MOA. Han Changfu, minster of MOA, once stated that the planting areas and output of potato accounted for one fourth of those in the world.

Actually, it is exactly potato’s characteristics that qualify it as the staple food to ensure China’s food security. 

In term of environment and resources, potato is less strict about the environment than other grains, which is beneficial to ease the environmental pressure, according to Lu Xiaoping, deputy director of International Potato Centre.

“The resistance of potato to environment is much better than that of other grains. For example, potato performs better at the dry, high-temperature and low temperature conditions. Also, potato saves more water in planting,” said Lu.

The Chinese government is taking action

Though the output and consumption of potato in China ranked the first in the world, the yield of potato in China and the average consumption is much lower that the world average level.

With a very single consuming structure, the average consumption of potato was only 41.2kg in China, much lower than that of the European countries and US. 

In 2015, MOA mentioned several times that the planting area of potato should be increased over 30 tonnes per hectare in the next 10 years. In the latest statement by MOA this time, the planting area of potato should be increased to 19.5 tonnes per hectare in the coming 5 years.

Though planting potato in China has a history of over 400 years, potato is mainly used as vegetable. Pan Wenbo, deputy director of Planting Division, MOA, believed that the traditional diet habit in China has failed to make potato as the real staple food now.

“Potato is staple food for two thirds of population in the world. In western countries, potato will be cooked into French fries, roasted potato and mashed potato. In China, potato should be improved in cooking to fit in people dairy meals,” stated Lu.

For more information about the potato market in China, you can try searching in CCM’s Online Platform.

About CCM:

CCM is the leading market intelligence provider for China’s agriculture, chemicals, food & ingredients and life science markets. Founded in 2001, CCM offers a range of data and content solutions, from price and trade data to industry newsletters and customized market research reports. Our clients include Monsanto, DuPont, Shell, Bayer, and Syngenta.

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Categories: International News, Food Sciences, Foreign Government

Tags: CCM, China, potato, staple food

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