Today’s post is about a most mundane subject- the humble potato.

For those readers who expect a serious post on a topic of significance- now might be a good time to stop reading!

The just concluded year 2008, had been declared the International Year of the Potato by The United Nations.

The United Nations website says “The potato is already an integral part of the global food system. It is the world’s number one non-grain food commodity, with production reaching a record 325 million tonnes in 2007.”

India is the third largest producer of this crop, after China and Russia. So we can imagine how important the potato is for us. Not only for us, but for many countries, the potato is of great importance.

Bangladesh is telling its people to eat potatoes. “Wheat costs 44 taka for 1kg, up 150%. By contrast, 1kg of potatoes sells at 13 taka in Dhaka, and far less in the countryside.” 

Think potato, grow potato and eat potato!” This was the main slogan of a three-day potato festival in Dhaka last year.

When Condoleeza Rice made her (in) famous statement last year that the diets of the people in China and India were improving and they consumed more food grain, Indians were outraged.

 It seems that our increased appetites were causing a world food crisis! The diversion of grains to manufacture bio fuels in the U.S. was not a factor.

Though India reacted to her charge, I am surprised that no one thought to tell her that the world could eat potatoes instead!

Mumbai, and much of the rest of India, too, certainly values the potato.

The highly popular snack- Wada-Pav has the potato as its main ingredient. Wada-Pav was in the news two months ago when the Shiv Sena re-named it as Shiv-wada-Pav.

“The branded vada-pav was launched at a function – ‘Vada-pav Sammelan’ (vada-pav conference) in Mumbai.”

“The function featured a competition among 27 professional vada-pav makers from Mumbai, Thane and Baramati that could be used as the standard for the branded vada-pav to be launched at 100 outlets January 23 next year, said Maharashtra Vada-Pav Vikreta Sena (MVVS) president Sanjay Gurav.”

The potato is widely used in preparations to be eaten duringupavas‘.

This practice is surprising because the potato or even the sweet potato, for that matter, cannot have been part of our tradition. The potato is not native to India.

The origin of the potato is most probably in the area of Southern Peru, in South America 

“However, although Peru is essentially the birthplace of the potato, today over 99% of all cultivated potatoes worldwide are descendants of a subspecies indigenous to south-central Chile.”

“The potato was introduced to Europe in 1536, and subsequently by European mariners to territories and ports throughout the world.”

Genetically modified foods are increasingly being developed. GM potatoes are also being similarly developed. The Shimla-based Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI) has developed GM potato varieties. The research on these varieties is in the advanced stage and limited field trials will be started.

However all is not smooth sailing for those trying to introduce GM varieties, because Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss is opposing the use of GM technology.

“What is worrying activists and farmers is the hurry with which the Government seems to be embracing GM technology, when around 180 countries in the world do not allow it.”

So it seems the potato, though certainly lowly, is not without some importance in today’s world. 

It had some value in earlier times, too, it seems. History records that Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XV, King of France, was known to wear potato blossoms as a hair decoration!