in the rich valley of Constanza
Potato (Solanum tuberosum L) derives from a Quechua word which means tuber. It is an annual herbaceous plant that reaches a height of one meter and produces an edible tuber known as potato. As a crop, it occupies the fourth place in importance worldwide, after corn, wheat and rice. It belongs to the floriferous Solanaceae family, of the Solanum genus, which includes more than one thousand species.
This sturdy tuber is a basic food for millions of people around the world. It is easy to digest, with a high glyceric acid index (foods that quickly degrade, become glucose and are absorbed). It possesses a high level of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Despite not having high protein content, the potato is very nutritious and also has the capacity to produce more calories than any other crop.
The history of the potato begins 8,000 years ago near Lake Titicaca in the Andes, on the border of Bolivia and Peru. While various Andean civilizations cultivated many vegetables and cereals, such as the tomato, beans and corn, their potato varieties were particularly adequate for the Quechua valley zone, which extends to heights that range from 3,100 to 3,500 meters above sea level. Subsequently, the Incas adopted and improved the agricultural advances of the earlier cultures and the potato became a secure food reserve for their empire. It is estimated that the potato was introduced in Spain towards the year 1550 after the Spanish settled in the highlands; eventually it reached England around the year 1590 with the English corsairs. From Spain and England, it spread to the rest of Europe and to the United States. By 1750, it had become one of the major foods of the world. Some countries initially resisted its ingestion since it was considered irrational to eat a product that grew underground.
Potatoes are cultivated in virtually all countries, essentially in mild climates, although in sub-tropical and tropical climates as well. Temperature represents an important element for its production, since temperatures lower than 10 degrees Celsius and higher than 30 degrees Celsius decidedly inhibit the development of the tuber, while the best production is obtained with an mean temperature between 18 and 20 degrees Celsius. For these reasons, the potato is planted in early Spring in areas with mild climate and, in places with tropical climate, it is cultivated during the coolest months of the year. Potatoes grow in almost every type of soil, except saline or alkaline clayey or sandy soils and abundant organic material, with good drainage and ventilation, offer less resistance to the growth of the tuber.
Although the potato that is internationally cultivated belongs to one botanic species, thousands of varieties exist with great differences in size, shape, color, texture, quality and flavor. For example, we have the high yielding Atahualpa potato produced in Peru. Also, the Nicola, a very popular Dutch variety, is one of the best for boiling and for use in salads. Additionally, there’s the Russet Burbank variety, which is the classic potato of the United States. On the other hand, there is the German Kipfler variety, which has an elongated form with a cream-colored pulp that is frequently used in salads. Other known varieties are the Vitelotte from France, the Royal Jersey and the English Maris Bard, among many others.
Potato planting and production in the Dominican Republic
In the Dominican Republic, the potato is one of the products with most presence in the national markets, which makes it a very important agricultural product. Currently, the main cultivation zones are Constanza (80%) and San Jose de Ocoa (15%), ideal for their cool climates, but potential exists in San Juan, Montecristi, and other provinces, since their adaptation to other climates has improved with genetic research. Also, irrigation is very important for this crop since it is highly dependent on humidity for its development. The principal varieties grown in the country are Granola, Arnova, Maranca, and Cal White.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, potato production has not increased significantly during the last 10 years. In 2002, approximately 1,071,000 quintals were produced and, by 2012, the harvest reached 1,336,210 quintals, an increase of 24.8%. On the other hand, the harvested area decreased during the same period, thus the increase in production was due to a higher yield per hectare. According to the same source, in the year 2012 close to 2,498 hectares were harvested.