|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE on international year of potato
Potatoes have become increasingly important in the developing world for both sustenance and income, Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told correspondents at Headquarters this morning as he helped launch the International Year of the Potato (2008) and briefed on World Food Day, observed 16 October.
“We are happy that the International Year will allow us to raise awareness of the importance of potatoes, which originated in the Andes of Peru but since then have spread all over the world, particularly now in developing countries,” said Mr. Diouf, who was joined in the briefing by Ismael Benavides, Peru’s Minister of Agriculture.
Three hundred fifty million tons of potatoes were now consumed worldwide each year, Mr. Diouf said, making them the fourth largest food source. In developing countries, production had actually doubled in the past 15 years, so that, for the first time, over 50 per cent of the crop was grown in the developing world.
In Peru, according to Mr. Benavides, potatoes were the main agricultural staple, supporting some 600,000 families, who produced some 3.3 million tons. Previous Governments of the country had subsidized imported wheat, decreasing the income of those families, who were mainly poor people. In Peru, one objective of the International Year was to reverse that situation by actively promoting potato consumption to raise the income of small rural farmers.
There would also be technical assistance from FAO to increase such farmers’ productivity, he said, and a campaign to sell Peruvian potatoes on the export market, particularly some of the hundreds of native varieties that offered unique colours, shapes and taste.
Mr. Diouf added that in order for developing countries such as Peru to be able to increase their export income from potatoes, however, it was necessary to lower or eliminate tariffs on the tuber. Processed potato products such as starch, which were easily transportable, had particularly high import tariff on them. The European Union was currently discussing that problem within the World Trade Organization. Mr. Benavides said Peru was currently negotiating with both the European Union and the United States for potato tariff reform.
Turning to World Food Day, Mr. Diouf said the theme this year was “The Right to Food”. Through its inclusion in many treaties, that right had become a legal right, but had been difficult to translate into action. In addition, the International Day raised awareness of growing problems that were threatening food security, such as low productivity, climate change, demands of bio-energy, higher prices for importing nations and lack of market access for producers in the developing world.
Asked to specify more clearly what the International Year of the Potato was meant to accomplish, Mr. Diouf said that the importance of potatoes, particularly for poor people, was not well known. With the increased production in developing countries, it was important to raise awareness of both the food and the economic issues involved, such as tariffs, to help increase incomes and food security.
Asked to describe activities of the Year, Mr. Diouf said there was an awareness-raising campaign which comprised printed material, films and media outreach. In Peru, Mr. Benavides said, events would be based around indigenous holidays that related to the potato-growing season, in addition to technical, scientific and culinary events throughout the year.
Questioned about the global spread of the potato, Mr. Benavides said that it was first brought by Peru’s Iberian conquerors back to Spain, where it was grown in the southern part of the country. Within 200 years, it had spread to northern Europe, since it was better adapted to cold climates. Mr. Diouf added that research institutes such as the International Potato Centre were helping to grow varieties that were adaptable to tropical developing countries.
Finally, a correspondent asked how FAO was reacting to a recent report that found a need for significant reform of the organization. Mr. Diouf replied that the final report presented a much more balanced picture and, in any case, a response had been prepared that would be out on Monday.
There had been many changes in the world, he said, in the years since FAO was founded and during which its membership had grown from 69 to 190 countries. Reform was, therefore, necessary, particularly in the context of United Nations reform. Adequate and predictable funding was also necessary and he felt confident that FAO’s membership and its Secretariat would continue to pursue both.
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