Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bangladesh military chief Gen. Moeen's Potato Philosophy


ALTOGETHER THIRTEEN courses were served at the lunch following the army chief's meeting with the national editors at the army headquarters on April 8, 2008. The menu included potato soup, French fries, potato corn curry, potato kopta curry, potato roller gravy, potato with spinach, potato malai curry, potato navaratna, potato pudina, and potato pulse.

The key to a successful lunch meeting is making people feel comfortable. During the lunch, the army chief made a 5-point appeal to the press to help bring down prices of essentials, hold credible elections, encourage people to diversify their food habit, improve the rule of law and security and highlight rural news. Behaving graciously throughout the meal, he stressed the need for the nation to consume potatoes alongside rice to alleviate the food crisis and requested the press to spread the slogan “potatoes alongside rice every day (Bhater pashe aloo protidin)” throughout the country, which is according to him, already a common slogan in the army itself.

According to a new WB-IMF report from Washington through a video conference connecting Dhaka, New Delhi, and Islamabad on Tuesday, April 8, 2008, sharp rise in food grain prices in recent times will worsen poverty situation in most of the South Asian countries including Bangladesh, leaving UN development goals (fixed in the UN Millennium Development Goals, a set of eight globally agreed development goals, by the given timeframe) by 2015 in the developing countries uncertain. As there's a lot of fear and greed out there, the Philippines, the largest rice importer, recently urged China, Japan, and other Asian nations to attend an emergency meeting on the region's food crisis to try to reverse export curbs that have driven prices to a record. Governments of those countries are getting afraid of unrest.

Shortage of supply, international price-hike, extreme weather events, and government incompetence are responsible for the present food price hikes. According to the economists’ suggestion, country should try hard to increase the supply of the most demanded commodity and in the mean time divert the food habit to an unmet demanded commodity for the time being.

Potatoes are best known for their carbohydrate (approximately 26 grams in a medium potato). Starch is the predominant form of carbohydrate found in potatoes. A small but significant portion of the starch in potatoes is resistant to enzymatic digestion in the stomach and small intestine and, thus, reaches the large intestine essentially intact.

Many critics felt sad as one of the General from the independent Bangladesh now recommended eating potato. They might recall the history while the then late General Ayub Khan once advised the East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) people to eat bread instead of rice. But everybody should have to keep in mind that the time is totally different as the then East Pakistani people had been advised or forced to change their mother language, their heritage, their culture, and their nationalism.

Potatoes contain a number of important vitamins and minerals. A medium potato (150g/5.3 oz) with the skin provides 27 mg vitamin C (45% of the Daily Value (DV)), 620 mg of potassium (18% of DV), 0.2 mg vitamin B6 (10% of DV) and trace amounts of thiamine, riboflavin, foliate, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. Moreover, the fibre content of a potato with skin (2 grams) equals that of many whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals. In addition to vitamins, minerals and fibre, potatoes also contain an assortment of photochemical, such as carotenoids, and ploy phenols.

A single serving of a potato can provide a person with 40% of the daily value needed of vitamin C; this will help keep the body from bruising easily. Also, the potato can give 20% of the potassium needed for the body each day; it is a needed element for everyone. It helps stabilize the body when it is being over worked. Though not likely to cause serious harm, green skinned potatoes can taste bitter and may result in temporary digestive discomfort.

The potato, a name derived from the Native American Indian word "Batata," was first cultivated by the Inca Indians in Peru over 7,000 years ago. It was introduced to Europe around 1700 and subsequently by European mariners to territories and ports throughout the world. Historical and genetic evidence suggests that the potato reached India not very much later than Europe, taken there by either the British or the Portuguese. Genetic studies show that all 32 varieties of potato grown in India derive from the Chilean subspecies. The earliest unequivocal reference to the potato in India is in an 1847 British journal.

In recent decades, the greatest expansion of potato has been in Asia, where as of 2007 approximately eighty percent of the world potato crop is grown. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, China has become the world's largest potato producer, followed by India. Potato is the world's most widely grown tuber crop, and the fourth largest food crop in terms of fresh produce — after rice, wheat, and maize (corn).

Last year, eight million tons of potatoes were produced in Bangladesh but there is capacity of preservation of only two million tons. According to the army chief, eating potato will not only help to reduce sharp rise of food grains but also potato growers will get fair price and will be encouraged to cultivate potato next year.

The United Nations have officially declared the year 2008 the International Year of the Potato in order to “increase awareness of the importance of the potato as a food in developing countries.”

Of course, there is nothing tasty, traditional, or important in compare to rice and people of Bangladesh cannot take anything instead of rice. But potatoes are one of the most nutritious staple crops discovered by man and can be habituated along with rice. #

First published on April 16, 2008, New York Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York.