Will the potato help China beat drought issues?

The solution to minimising problems caused by drought in China and planting the potato, could cure the country's shrinking arable land, Chinese agriculture experts predict.

One potato farming specialist from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences told state media that the potato is more drought-resistant than rice and wheat, which suits China better as 60% of the country’s arable land is dry.

However, now the Chinese government needs to provide subsidies for farmers to persuade them to make the switch to potato farming, experts told Xinhua.

It is reported that China suffers from a shortage of 30 billion cubic meters of water for irrigation every year and the overall water supply for irrigation purposes will reach a plateau by 2030 even as demand increases, according to an official responsible for water resources planning.

Chen Fan, a researcher with Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology Chinese Academy of Sciences, said to Xinhua:

“The yield per unit of rice, corn and wheat is not expected to increase due to technology limitations, which means the potato is a better option to meet the food demand of 1.3 billion people.”

Setbacks include a lack of advanced technology, and state media reports that China’s arable land decreased 1.23 million hectares every year between 2001 and 2005 due to water shortages.

However, rice farmers face large initial spending to switch to potato farming and many in arid areas prefer to risk the ability to beat the effects of drought rather than change their crop.

“The problem of promoting potato planting lies in the high price of the certified seeds,” said Cheng Yingguo, director of the food crop technology division in the Ministry of Agriculture, to state media.

“Besides technologies, the government needs to provide initial investments and subsidies for potato farmers to make things work,” he said.

Dana Gornitzki

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