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2008: The year of the humble spud

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After years of being a staple instead of a star, the potato is finally dusting off its jacket and is now entering the food hall of fame.

The United Nations has named 2008 the International Year of Potato, in recognition of its potential to feed the world's growing population.

Farmers such as Stewart McGee from Tasmania are thrilled.

"It's right up there with the best of them, isn't it?" he said.

"It's still quite surprising. I was dumbfounded when I heard that that was announced the International Year of the Potato. Quite tickled.

"I think it's really putting the potato into its rightful place and getting all the priorities right ... because it offers us so much as part of our diet, and it's the third largest food crop grown in the world, behind rice and wheat."

The potato is grown in more than 125 countries around the world. A billion people eat it every year. And as the world's population increases, it's hoped the potato will play a vital role.

Huge buffet

Dr Pamela Anderson is the director of the International Potato Centre in Lima, Peru.

"Since 2003 there is actually a bit more area planted to potato in the developing world than in the industrialised world," she said.

"But the yields of potato, the production in the industrialised world is much higher. So it's an important crop for everyone.

"In the developing world, what we're seeing is increases in consumption as well as increases in production. So it's becoming a more and more important crop in the developing world."

Potatoes are rich in protein and vitamin C. When it's boiled, it has more protein than corn and nearly twice the amount of calcium.

Dr Pamela Anderson says there is great diversity in potatoes.

"If you were to come to Peru and visit me at the centre, I would show you the gene bank," she said.

"We are the guardians of the largest collection of potatoes in the world. In the Andes, we have 5,000 different types of native potatoes.

"There is an immense diversity of potatoes, it's not just the large, white European potatoes that we're so accustomed to.

"There are and they're purple, pink, orange, yellow. They're all shapes and sizes. And for example, if you think about your Purple Congo or your Pink Eye, those are the kinds of varieties that we have in South America."

But she says despite the variety available, she still likes her spuds simple.

"My favourite way is still boiled potatoes, very simply, and I have a favourite recipe from my grandmother which is a Potato O Gratin," she said.

"But the figures are very clear that in the industrialised world, you have a very strong consumption of fries and crisps." © 2007 Australian Broadcasting Corporation

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