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Potato, Solanum tuberosum / Solanaceae
The potato is original from South America, where it was a basic food for the indigenous people. It was not until the XIXth century that Europe was interested in cultivating it intensively.

The main producing country is China, whereas the Netherlands the exports leader.

The origin of the potato seems to be the Andes in South America, and it has been cultivated since the old times in the high plateaus of Chile, Peru and Ecuador.

The first Spanish explorers dedicated a special attention to potatoes, since along with maize it was part of the main food of the indigenous population. They brought them to Spain in the middle of the XIVth century and they were first cultivated with aesthetic purposes more than economic, intending them for cattle feeding.

As time went by, the varieties improved in flavour and size. The people introduced potatoes in their diet, given the huge shortages at that moment.

In short time this culture spreaded to all the European countries. The French, Italian and English people paid more attention to the enormous possibilities that this culture had, which could be produced almost in all climate conditions.

Ireland was the most interested in intensifying its culture, becoming a basic food in the daily diet; it was known as the " poor people’s bread’. It was so important for them that when the ‘mildew’ disease attacked potatoes it was devastating for the crops; thus, there was an exodus of the Irish population towards North America, fleeing from the famine.

The culture did not increase until the XIXth century, thanks to the high consumption of this tuber and the more productive and profitable new varieties.

The potato is a highly consumed product and widely used in the industry, which has lead to its cultivation in great amounts and in every continent.

In Spain, most of the potatoes cultivated are mainly intended for export, specially the early and ultraearly varieties. Thanks to their privileged climate they are the first to offer certain varieties in the Central European markets.

The world production is leaded by Europe, followed closely by Asia, as shown in the following table:
CountryProduction (thousand tons) %
 19981999 
Africa8,9558,9333
Asia103,401105,04636
Europe137,892135,54245
North America27,77928,01010
Oceania1,8791,8991
South America13,46814,8995
TOTAL293,374294,329100


Source: Fresh Produce Desk Book (2001).

The 10 main producers, along with their production evolution in the last years is shown in the following table:
CountryProduction (thousand tons)   
 1989-11996:19971998
China31,18953,07947,63947,789
Russian Federation-38,65237,04031,300
Poland33,24727,21720,77625,949
India14,94418,84325,06525,065
The United States17,99522,61821,11621,671
Ukraine-18,41016,70117,500
Germany14,05713,55812,06711,712
Bielorrusia-10,8816,94210,000
The Netherlands6,9478,0817,9737,704
France5,2136,2496,6866,200


Source: FAO Production Yearbook (1998).

As it can be appreciated, China is the country with greater production in the world, followed by the Russian Federation and Poland; this is thanks to the good adaptation of potatoes to cold climates.

In Spain, the main producing areas are the Canary Islands, where the ultraearly variety is produced and the Mediterranean coast and Balearic Islands, where the early variety is cultivated.

Concerning exports, the 10 main potato exporters are:
CountryExports 
 Tons 1998Thousand $ 1998
The Netherlands1,420,892354,734
France1,248,937255,210
Belgium-Luxembourg1,179,823168,969
Germany930,475102,577
Canada631,528128,942
The United States304,03892,967
Italy278,69090,686
Spain230,56174,068
Egypt228,46743,224
Argentina128,97414,292


Source: FAO Trade Yearbook (1998).

One can observe that the first export country is the Netherlands, that along the tubers exported for consumption, it exports a great amount of seeds for reproduction.

Concerning exports, the 10 main import countries are:
CountryImports 
 Tons 1998Thousand $ 1998
The Netherlands1,339,402126,911
Belgium-Luxembourg903,161146,715
Germany685,240181,039
Spain597,757139,123
Italy451,701101,873
ReinoUnido442,710177,666
France360,59794,616
Portugal241,877543,968
Russian Federation138,18526,534
Sri Lanka109,49822,655


Source: FAO Trade Yearbook (1998)

These tables show that the north European countries are the main potato importers, being seeds the great part of imports.
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