The potato (Solanum tuberosum) belongs to the solanaceae family of flowering plants. It originated and was first domesticated in the Andes mountains of South America.
The potato is the third most important food crop in the world after rice and wheat in terms of human consumption. More than a billion people worldwide eat potato, and global total crop production exceeds 300 million metric tons.
There are more than 4,000 varieties of native potatoes, mostly found in the Andes. They come in many sizes and shapes. There are also over 180 wild potato species. Though they are too bitter to eat, their important biodiversity includes natural resistances to pests, diseases, and climatic conditions.
Potato is vegetatively propagated, meaning that a new plant can be grown from a potato or piece of potato, called a “seed”. The new plant can produce 5-20 new tubers, which will be genetic clones of the mother seed plant. Potato plants also produce flowers and berries that contain 100-400 botanical seeds. These can be planted to produce new tubers, which will be genetically different from the mother plant.
Potatoes can grow from sea level up to 4,700 meters above sea level; from southern Chile to Greenland.
One hectare of potato can yield two to four times the food quantity of grain crops. Potatoes produce more food per unit of water than any other major crop and are up to seven times more efficient in using water than cereals. They are produced in over 100 countries worldwide.
Since the early 1960s, the growth in potato production area has rapidly overtaken all other food crops in developing countries. It is a fundamental element in the food security for millions of people across South America, Africa, and Asia, including Central Asia.
Presently, more than half of global potato production now comes from developing countries.
CIP’s Role in Sowing Potatoes
CIP maintains the largest collection of potato in the world, including more than 7,000 accessions of native, wild, and improved varieties. CIP’s genebank ensures that they are both securely conserved for the long-term and also available for use by farmers, breeders, and researchers.
Of the potatoes sown in Peru for commercial consumption, 40 percent are the Canchan variety developed by CIP. Field-tested by the Instituto Nacional de Innovacion Agraria (INIA), the variety’s early maturation, high yield, pleasing tuber color, and above all, initial resistance to late blight disease made it a top choice 20 years ago. Today Peru harvests over 1.4 million tons of Canchan annually. The tuber is a favorite for french fries.
From 1997 to 2007, the potato cultivation in developing countries increased by 25 percent. In this same period, the percentage of CIP-related varieties increased from 6.4 to 13.1 percent, making CIP-related varieties the largest source of potato material in developing countries.