We probably all know what a potato is and how we prefer to eat it. But do you know what a seed potato is, and why seed potato certification matters? And did you know UNECE has a standard for seed potatoes?
Potatoes is one of the easiest vegetables to grow, as old potatoes that have grown buds can simply be used to grow new plants. However, it is estimated that some 32 per cent of potatoes are lost worldwide each year due to plant diseases and pests, causing both food loss and financial losses for potato farmers and traders. Yet, many diseases that cause severe losses in potato production can be prevented. By using healthy seed potatoes when planting crops, diseases and pests can be kept at bay, harvests increased, and spoilage reduced. That is why seed potato standards and certification schemes matter.
UNECE has a long-standing work stream on seed potato standardization and certification. First adopted in 1963, the UNECE Standard S-1 for concerning the marketing and quality control of seed potatoes defines harmonised quality requirements for seed potatoes and creates a harmonized quality certification system, thus helping to improve the quality of planting material and facilitate international trade in seed potatoes.
By ensuring quality production of potatoes - one of the major global crops - the work of the UNECE to promote standardization and certification of seed potatoes helps reduce food loss and waste and facilitate international trade in seed potatoes.
Through its Specialized Section on Standardization of Seed Potatoes (under the UNECE Working Party on Agricultural Quality Standards), experts from public and private sectors regularly meet to improve and update the Standard and produce related guidance and capacity building materials. On 17-18 March 2022 it met for its 49th session to discuss revisions to the seed potato standard and to finalize related guidance, including the recently adopted Capacity-building guide for implementation of a seed potato certification scheme complementing existing materials such as the UNECE Guide to Operating a Seed Potato Certification Service.
So, what then are seed potatoes? And why does it matter to have quality standards and certifications for them? In fact, the term seed potato is a bit of a misnomer. While potatoes can be grown from the seeds from the flowers of potato plants, in fact the term “seed potatoes” does not refer to seeds but to potatoes (tubers) that that have been grown and selected to be used for planting new crops.
At its 49th session, the Specialized Section decided on next steps for revising the UNECE Standard S-1 on seed potatoes, and for finalizing guidance and training material to be made available for seed potato certification bodies and experts. In so doing, the more than 40 experts from 27 countries made a concrete contribution to improving the quality of seed potatoes, and thus towards reducing food loss and waste - a critical component both for ensuring food security and increasing the environmental sustainability of food systems.