Why the World Potato Congress is so important for Belgium

Aurélie Van Wonterghem
03 July 2018
As the fries country par excellence, Belgium is a major player in the global potato market. In order to live up to its reputation, our country was expected to have a prominent role at the World Potato Congress in Cusco (Peru). The congress’ Belgian president, Romain Cools, looks back at the event for Glo.be.

Belgium networks

The three-yearly World Potato Conference is the ideal meeting place for people all over the world working in the potato sector. Researchers, producers and businessmen gathered in Cuzco (Peru) in May 2018 to discuss the future of the potato as a guarantee of food security. A Belgian delegation, headed by Romain Cools, represented the Belgian potato industry. As general secretary of Belgapom, the professional association of Belgian potato trade and processing, Cools is currently also the president of the World Potato Congress (WPC) Inc. This Canada-based NGO tries to be a leading network organisation for the global value chain of the potato.

The World Potato Congress in Cuzco focused on three themes: biodiversity, food security and business. The latter theme emphasised the network possibilities for companies active in the supply, trade and processing of potatoes. For example, their participation in the congress gave managers of Belgian potato processing companies such as Pomuni Frozen and Agristo the opportunity to contact colleagues and suppliers. 'In the meantime, contacts have also been made between the International Potato Center (CIP) and the Flemish for Technological Research (VITO) to investigate whether they can set up a joint project on remote sensing in Africa within the framework of the Food Security Thematic Exploitation Platform (FS-TEP)', as informs Romain Cools.

As general secretary of Belgapom, the professional association of Belgian potato trade and processing, Cools is currently also the president of the World Potato Congress (WPC) Inc.

Romain Cools speaks at the congress
© CIP

The tenth edition of the World Potato Congress took place in Peru, the cradle of the potato, 25 years after it was organised for the first time. The Belgian delegation drew a lot of attention in this special edition. Together with 'Belgica Contigo', a campaign by the Belgian embassy in Lima (see below), our country set up a stand at the congress with Belgapom, Flanders’ Agricultural Marketing Board VLAM, the NGO Trias and VITO as participants. VITO took this opportunity to present its new application 'watchITgrow', which enables potato cultivators to monitor the growth process of their potatoes using satellite images and weather data. If necessary, they can adjust the cultivation process in order to harvest potatoes of the highest quality. For its information session on 'watchITgrow', VITO received the award for best presentation at the congress, which once again put our country in the limelight.

 

Belgium takes its social responsibility

Romain Cools sees another important advantage: 'In addition to networking, the World Potato Congress offers Belgium the opportunity to draw attention to its social responsibility. Our sector offers much more than just one-way exports.'

The Belgian embassy in Lima also contributed to the promotion of our country at the congress with the 'Belgica contigo' campaign, which promotes cooperation between Belgium and the South American countries Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador in the field of public health and natural resources. The Belgian ambassador in Peru gave several interviews on the Peruvian radio and television concerning 'Belgica Contigo' and the Belgian potato sector. The embassy also organised high-level receptions in both Lima and Cusco that were attended by Mercedes Araoz, Peru's vice-president, among others.

Finally, the Belgian NGO Trias was also able to highlight its activities in the potato sector. Trias works closely with Coopagros, an association of farmers in the Peruvian Andes. In addition to offering microcredits, the NGO organises training and cultivation guidance for farmers in the Andean Mountains. In this way, Trias increases the profitability of their potato crops, allowing the farmers to better meet their basic needs.

In addition to networking, the World Potato Congress offers Belgium the opportunity to draw attention to its social responsibility. Our sector offers much more than just one-way exports.

Romain Cools

Trias set up a coalition in Belgium: Coalición Chuño. This coalition consists of Belgapom, the Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO), Rotary Torhout-Houtland, the province of West Flanders and students of the secondary schools VTI and VLTI. The idea is to use the knowledge and know-how of the Flemish potato sector to support Coopagros in the production, processing and sale of the chuño, the freeze-dried potato that has been known for centuries. As freezing temperatures at night have become less frequent in the Andean region due to climate change, farmers nowadays need a refrigerated room to produce freeze-dried potatoes. That is why the coalition, together with Coopagros and the local authorities, built the world's first small-scale chuño plant. Romain Cools, together with Trias and the Belgian delegation, visited the project prior to the World Potato Congress. Herman Van Rompuy also highlighted this unique project during the congress in his video message about his commitment as an advocate for the organisation.

At the World Potato Congress, Belgium, together with over 800 specialists in the field, looked for a way to guarantee food security worldwide. Our country especially considers potato biodiversity as an important part of the solution. The importance of the congress became clear once again, according to Romain Cools. 'The potato sector is a sector that is open to international cooperation, which makes Belgium’s active participation all the more important', he concludes.

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About the same theme - Article 2 /6 Forty years of partnership between Belgium and the CIP