Beijing, Sep 24 (Calcutta Tube) The potato, once planted as a life-saving food during famines, is now bringing wealth and prosperity to many people in China.
Chen Chunlan, a potato farmer in Dingxi in Gansu province, now lives a satisfying life in her newly-built, well-furnished home.
[ReviewAZON asin=”0813192420″ display=”inlinepost”]She credits her potato fields for her improved standard of living – the fields provide her with an annual income of 70,000 yuan ($10,400).
Chen, however, clearly recalls the hard times not long ago, when local farmers often had to worry about their next meal.
‘We used to grow wheat, but the meagre harvest could barely feed us, let alone allow us to save some money,’ Chen was quoted as saying by China Daily.
In 2001, extreme poverty forced Chen to flee Dingxi to try and earn a living in another place.
Dingxi, with its cold and arid climate and hence low agricultural yield, has been listed as one of China’s poorest regions. In 1995, a severe drought hit Dingxi, and almost everything in the fields withered.
But to the surprise of the local people, the potatoes survived the catastrophe.
‘Potatoes are amazingly drought-resistant and can acclimatise well to Dingxi’s agricultural conditions,’ said Wang Yihang, the provincial potato expert.
In 1996, the Dingxi government launched the ‘Potato Project’ to popularise the cultivation of potatoes to guarantee basic food supply.
Dingxi now grows more potatoes than any other city in China, boasting over 200,000 hectares of potato fields, or one third of the city’s cultivable land.
Thanks to the tuber, the city no longer has a food supply problem.
‘Potatoes are transported to markets all over China on special trains, while others are processed in local plants,’ said Yang Zixing, party secretary of Dingxi city, referring to the city’s 20 large factories that turn the ‘not suited for sale’ potatoes into starch or potato chips.
The processing factories are the source of 25 percent of the local farmers’ income.
Dingxi’s success story suggests a bright future for potato cultivation in China, as the tuber rapidly expands into China’s western regions.
‘Most of the increased potato cultivation is in China’s poor western regions – the provinces of Gansu, Shaanxi and Qinghai and the Ningxia Hui autonomous region,’ an official said.
The potato has proven to be more suitable than rice and wheat for cultivation on western China’s arid, barren lands, playing a major role in relieving starvation in these regions.
And although in China, potatoes are traditionally not a staple food as they are in many other parts of the world, it is nevertheless an integral part of Chinese cuisine.
Potato-based snacks are also becoming popular in China, especially after western fast food giants like McDonald’s and KFC began selling french fries.