The common potato has a history of transcending its humble roots, achieving lofty heights in dishes such as a melt-in-the-mouth Gratin Dauphinois...

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The common potato has a history of transcending its humble roots, achieving lofty heights in dishes such as a melt-in-the-mouth Gratin Dauphinois or velvety vichyssoise.

But never has the tuber received such distinction as when the United Nations recently designated 2008 as the International Year of the Potato.

Although potatoes are the fourth largest food crop in the world, the potential for increased production is tremendous, making it a promising source for feeding the world’s poor.

“It is ideally suited to places where land is limited and labor is abundant, conditions that characterize much of the developing world,” writes Adam Prakash, marketing representative of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. “The potato produces more nutritious food more quickly, on less land, and in harsher climates than any other major crop; up to 85 percent of the plant is edible human food, compared to about 50 percent in cereals.”

In developing countries production has grown from 84.09 tons in 1990 to 159.12 tons in 2006. Almost a third of all potatoes are grown and harvested in China and India, and consumption is growing at a faster rate in Africa, Latin America and Asia than in European countries.

Still, there is work to be done, and it will take the collaboration of farmers, food scientists and government officials to resolve many of the difficulties growing the crops worldwide. “Some varieties of potatoes are susceptible to disease, and those that aren’t may not be able to grow in some regions,” according to the International Potato Center, (known by its Spanish acronym, CIP) which is based in Lima, Peru. Scientists are working to develop disease-resistant strains that will grow in a variety of soils and harsh climates.

To learn more about the International Year of the Potato, take a look at www.potato2008.org, an informational Web site dedicated to shining the spotlight on the diverse spud.

CeCe Sullivan: csullivan@seattletimes.com