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Plenary 4:

Summary and Strategies

for Moving the Potato Forward
Dr. Marcelo Huarte

Potatoes have been a model of innovation in comparison to other crops. Potato’s own biological features,
the growers that cultivate it, research institutions and processing companies are the main sources of
innovation. The continuous improvement has been scientifically based and easily deployed to serve a
permanently demanding private industry and a willing consumer. It is in this framework that the effects
of climate change have to be forecast and prevented, and this interaction will pose challenges for future
developments. 70 % of the poor communities of the world live in rural areas and therefore the introduction
of varieties and other technologies must guarantee sustainability and food security.
The world is facing a nutritional crisis: about three billion human beings in each of its 193 countries have
low quality diets. In the next twenty years malnutrition in its diverse forms will pose serious threats to
global health. Population growth combined with climate change and the competition of agriculture for
natural resources will cause serious stress on food systems, especially in Africa and Asia, where 2 billion
additional people will be living by 2050. At the same time, increasing urbanization, notably fast in those
areas, will affect hunger and nutrition in complex ways, both positive as well as negative (Global Panel
on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, 2016). More than half a million additional deaths due to
diet related causes will occur by 2050 if we compare with a scenario without climate change, and most of
these deaths will happen in low and medium income countries. Both direct and indirect effects must be
considered when developing climate-sound policies, e.g. in relation to the increase in energy costs.
It looks like there are no important consequences of climate change on the adequacy and quality of diets.
However, direct consequences of climate change on diets include increasing temperatures, volatile rains
and greater incidence of extreme climatic phenomena, which together will affect agricultural productivity
and meat production. Increase in gas emissions with greenhouse effects are associated with the increase
in global temperature which has been demonstrated as responsible for crop yield reduction in tropical
areas where hunger is more important.
The most recent and more impact yielding technologies on the potato crop that may contribute to
mitigating climate change are listed below.
- Precision agriculture including precise decision support systems, “decision agriculture”, with fertilizer,
disease and yield mapping; use of online sensors applied to farm machinery and storage, innovative
planting designs (beds and checks), drip irrigation expansion, sub-surface irrigation with controlled
drought and combined with center pivots; automatization and robotics applied to farm labor
and combined with the use of drones, strip soil preparation and roads for spraying and irrigation;
autonomous weeders and roguing; all connected with an ”internet of things”. All these technologies

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are expected to increase yields, reduce costs, replace hand labor, increase stability and improve
quality, improving the potential of each region.
- Use of novel molecular tools applied to disease resistance, stress tolerance and to increase genetic
transformation efficiency: CRISPR/Cas9 or gene edition, use of plant embryo cells to increase growth
plasticity, RNA silencing, marker assisted breeding, cisgenics, new true seed variety development
techniques, etc. These technologies avoid transgenic opponents’ arguments and may increase
breeding speed.
- Use of biological products that will profit from native soil microbioma and the increase of N use efficiency
(NUE) will allow a more sustainable agriculture. Biological products’ market increase has been exponential.
- Among traditional agrochemical products, an increase of the use of micro emulsions with ultra- low
surface tension to increase wetting (less than 10 nm drops), higher thermostability, higher area
interphase and the ability to dissolve liquids that normally don’t mix; products with asymmetric
catalysis as innocuous antiviral agents and new products with lower environmental and human risks.
- With regards to economic aspects, potato production under contract with increasing backward
integration, customized selling strategies, automatized quality control, specialized finance for small
growers, direct supply to bars and restaurants, corporative planting or pool planting, hand labor
replacement, territory ordination for increased sustainability and efficiency.
- Significative changes are expected in regulatory aspects regarding consumer trends, present
applicability of norms, protectionism, and global commerce policies. Both withdrawal and increase
of GMO and agrochemical regulations are expected; commercial barriers among countries should
be withdrawn, especially those tariff-related barriers that prevent free but controlled movement of
potato; European, US and other countries subsidy polices and protectionism should be revised and
reduced: potato doesn’t need government paternalism. Sanitary risk evaluation among countries is a
must to increase international potato commerce.
- A battle between the backers of GMO and opponents of identification and tagging will probably occur
sooner than expected, especially at the society and consumer level. Organic potatoes are increasing
steadily, surpassing other horticultural crops; carbon and water footprint is increasingly included in the
packaging of all forms of potatoes marketed; nutritionists are expected to increase their information
related to the quality of carbohydrates provided by potato and their effect on human health.
- Megatrends will be guided towards the ethics of the potato business and increase the involvement of
large companies in social responsibility issues and the implementation of agricultural and industrial
best practices. Environmental impact mitigation through the rational or restricted use of agrochemicals
is today already an obligation in urban agricultural belts. Water use for agricultural purposes will
become more and more competitive with human consumption, and therefore there is an important
role in the development of tolerant varieties. Improvements in education in general and in potatoes
in particular will be continuous and with a growing demand.

52 Abstract Book WPC-ALAP 2018