Over 1,000 participants from Asia, Africa, South America, North America and Europe were connected during Potato Days 2021. A connection that is needed, because the challenges are great. As Martin Kropff of CGIAR showed during his keynote, "by 2050, we will be living on a planet with twice as many citizens, half as much space to grow food and the need for a varied nutritious diet." His organization is working on system transformations in food, land and water use.
Martin sees potatoes as one of the solutions to fight hunger: "Per hectare, potatoes can produce more food under the right conditions. In addition, potatoes provide more variety in the diet, which helps us combat malnutrition."
800 million people are suffering from hunger
Right now, 800 million people are starving. We owe it to the world to be more aware than ever of this crisis. Gerard Backx, CEO of HZPC, opened the Potato Days together with host Emmelie Zipson: "We want to contribute to feeding the world. We realize that food production will take place more and more locally. Local connection is essential to this."
Local growers in Africa and Asia
Growing food locally requires knowledge of the climate, the soil and most of all people. Local growers must be ‘in the lead', as Peter Berghuis (LTO), Romain Cools (World Potato Congress), Jasper Spikker (Agriterra) and Gerard Backx discussed during one of the table talks.
Jasper Spikker: "First of all there is the climate. There is no winter in Rwanda. This causes more diseases in crops. Also, not all of the growers are working with motorized farm machinery yet and they don't have all the knowledge." The majority of the participants at the event describe the role of HZPC in this area as a facilitator. Here the emphasis is on knowledge sharing. However, HZPC is also working on solutions that offer local arable farmers new opportunities: hybrid potatoes, grown using seeds.
Hybrid breaks boundaries
Contributing to food security is harder in places that are logistically challenging to reach, such as parts of Africa and Asia. Moreover, the potato is a vulnerable crop and a journey from, for instance, the Netherlands to Africa is long and intensive. Moreover, the outcome, whether a potato variety yields well elsewhere, is not always certain. That is why HZPC invests in hybrid potato breeding, explains Ad Vrolijk, project leader at HZPC: "Hybrid potato breeding is a method that goes further than crossing two varieties. When crossing, the outcome is uncertain: which good characteristics have been adopted in the new variety and which not?" Ad explains hybrid potato breeding using dice. "With hybrid potato breeding you don't have to guess, you go to the core, the DNA. And thanks to big data, we know everything about the DNA and which genetics to combine in new varieties."
Niels Louwaars was one of the experts who spoke during the second table talk. Niels is CEO of Plantum, the trade association for the seed and young plant sector: "Hybrid breeding is not new. With corn they have been doing this for 100 years. One of the big advantages of hybrid breeding is that you get more uniform crops, but the biggest gain is in speed." For example, it is possible to get a variety resistant to diseases much faster.
Being able to grow hybrid seed potatoes from seeds brings significant advantages. Especially in terms of logistics. Seeds can be transported a lot easier and in larger numbers, under better conditions. Besides logistics, customization is another advantage; it becomes easier to grow varieties that perform well in a specific (dry) climate.
The potato is one of the most sustainable crops. For example, the cultivation of potatoes consumes only 200 liters of water per kilogram. Little, compared to for example rice that uses 1,200 liters of water per kilogram. HZPC proves that it can be even more sustainable with Even Greener. A selection of sustainable potato varieties with an (even) lower impact on the environment. Michiel ten Duis, Senior Head of Marketing at HZPC: "Each variety from this selection scores above average on 5 characteristics: limited water consumption, less fertilizer required, high disease protection, long storage period and a high yield." Buyers decide which traits they consider most important using the Even Greener calculator. With this, they select the sustainable potatoes that meet their requirements.