Though potato is a household name today in India, it came to this ancient land only about 400 years ago. After its introduction from Europe in the beginning of 17th century, it remained an insignificant crop till independence, largely because of poor productivity of introduced European varieties that were adapted to temperate agro-climate and were suitable for cultivation in hills of India as summer crop. The Government of India established the ICAR-Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI) in the year 1949 to harness the potential of this promising crop for food security. The institute developed suitable varieties and technologies that virtually transformed the temperate potato crop to sub-tropical one enabling its spread from cooler hill regions to the vast Indo-Gangetic plains as a rabi crop. It triggered a revolution in potato production causing very fast growth in area, production and productivity during next five decades.
Potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) is a wholesome food contributing to the energy and nutritional requirements of a large population world over. It has been used as a food by humans for almost 8000 years. It is believed that cultivated potato originated in South America, most likely near Lake Titicaca on the borders of Peru and Bolivia. When Spain conquered Peru, they took potatoes from there and spread it all over the Europe by the end of the sixteenth century. Further spread of potatoes was facilitated by several European countries including Portugal and Britain. However, its significance and role in the global food system is under-appreciated. Potatoes have been known for their use as staple food, cash crop, animal feed, and also as source of starch for industrial uses in almost 160 countries world over.
Presently, potato is the world’s fourth most important food crop with 377 million tonnes of tubers produced from 19.2 million hectares of land, in over 160 countries, in 2016. United Nations named 2008 as the “International Year of the Potato”, in recognition of contribution of potato as a major food staple to their Millennium Development Goals of providing food security and eradicating poverty. Nutritional value of potato was known since long, specially its high content of ascorbic acid to prevent scurvy. Potato is a good option for food and is capable of producing nutritious food more quickly on lesser land compared to any other major food crops. Attributing to high protein-calorie ratio (17 g protein: 1000 kcal) and short life cycle, potatoes produce more edible energy, protein and dry matter yield on per unit basis in comparison to major food crops. Farmers can harvest up to 80% of biomass as edible, nutritious food in case of potato, whereas in case of cereals only up to 50% can be harvested as grains.
The nutritional value of potato is well established and is known as a versatile, carbohydrate rich and low-fat food. Potatoes at fresh harvest may contain approximately 80% water and 20% dry matter, out of this dry matter approximately 60–80% is constituted in the form of starch. Its content of dry matter, edible energy and edible protein makes it a good choice for nutrients availability. On dry weight basis, the protein content of potatoes is comparable to cereals and higher when compared to other roots and tubers. Potato is well known to consumers as a source of energy, but its significance of supplying vital nutrients is not well recognized. Potato is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, dietary fibres and vitamin C. It also contains a variety of health-promoting compounds, such as phytonutrients, that have antioxidative activity. Some of the health-promoting compounds present in potatoes include carotenoids, flavonoids, and caffeic acid. Besides, unique tuber storage proteins like patatin known to exhibit activity against free radicals is also present in it. Potato is also a substantial source of ascorbic acid, thiamine, niacin, pantothenic acid and riboflavin. Due to the nutritional value of potato, it is highly desirable in human diet. The nutritive value of a potato containing food depends on the other components served with it and on the method of preparation. As it is, potato does not contain much of fat and the feeling of satiety it gives, is helpful for the people aiming weight reduction.
As mentioned above, CPRI has played a key role in popularizing potato cultivation and utilization under sub-tropical agro-ecosystem. The institute has been working in focussed way on its define mandate; which are: (i) Basic, strategic and applied research to enhance sustainable productivity, quality and utilization of potato; (ii) Repository of genetic resources and scientific information on potato; (iii) Transfer of technology, capacity building and impact assessment of technologies; (iv) Disease-free nucleus and breeder seed potato production; and (v) Coordinate research and validation of technologies through AICRP on potato. Nearly 80% of potato in India is grown in Indo-Gangetic plains. Remaining area is in hills and plateau. The varietal requirements of these regions vary due to their varying agro-ecological conditions. The genetic improvement of a crop is a continuous task as growers and consumers’ requirements go on changing, and new diseases, pests and abiotic stresses continue to evolve. Till now, the CPRI has developed more than 60 varieties. These have successfully taken care of the needs of potato cultivation in India. Besides, table varieties, processing varieties have also been developed. These varieties have contributed substantially to the observed increase in production and productivity in the country. The varieties/hybrids from Indian program has benefited not only this country but also several other countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Bolivia, Madagascar, Nepal, Philippines and Sri Lanka, where the Indian varieties/ hybrids have been adopted for commercial cultivation.
CPRI has well established seed production system in which institute produces about 3000 tonnes of breeders’ seed annually from about 521 ha farm area distributed over 15 units in the country at our Regional Stations. The breeder’s seed is supplied to the State Department of Agriculture/Horticulture for further multiplication in three stages as Foundation-I, Foundation-II, and Certified Seed. The institute has created state-of-art laboratories for conducting basic and strategic research. The institute has established a number of international and national collaborations in various areas of potato R&D. Various technologies have been developed and commercialized by the institute which have benefited a large number of people associated with potato production, trading, processing and/or utilization.