Bangladeshis told "eat potatoes" as rice prices soar

Potatoes are not traditionally high on the menu for Bangladesh's 140 million people, but a surge in rice and wheat prices has prompted the government to popularize the humble spud as a substitute food, the Reuters reported.

"Think potato, grow potato and eat potato," was the main slogan of a three-day potato festival in Dhaka last week.

Bangladesh's government is waging a campaign to convince millions of Bangladeshis to embrace potatoes as a staple food due to record high rice and wheat prices and an unusually good crop of potatoes that will need to be eaten quickly before they rot.

Since grain prices soared, about a third of Bangladeshis have had to skip one or two meals a day because they could not afford to buy rice which forms the bulk of their diet.

One kilo of rice has doubled in price over the past year and now costs 40 taka ($0.58), almost half the daily wage of a factory worker. Wheat costs 44 taka for a kilo, up 150 percent. By contrast, one kilo of potatoes sells at 13 taka ($0.19) in the capital, and far less in the countryside.

Potatoes are native to Latin America but were brought to South Asia from Europe sometime in the 18th century where they are mostly eaten as a vegetable ingredient in dishes such as curry.

Although an excellent carbohydrate substitute to rice, it is hard to convince Asians, who often don't regard a meal to be complete without a bowl of rice, to switch to spuds.

"It's not possible to change people's food habit overnight," said Nazrul Islam, the director of Bangladesh's Agriculture Information Service.

"Potato cannot replace rice as the main staple, but I think they will soon realize it can be a very good substitute at a reasonably low cost," he added.

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