Not everyone is convinced that the promises of hybrid potato breeding can actually be fulfilled and it is also questionable what the economic and social consequences will be in the event of successful introduction. For example, the transition from the use of seed potatoes to true potato seed requires the potato production chain to be organised differently, which may have a negative impact on the economically successful Dutch seed potato sector. There are also varying perspectives on the direction in which agriculture and food production should develop.
Three scenarios for the future
The future of hybrid potato breeding is therefore uncertain. In order to imagine and be able discuss that future, the Rathenau Instituut has drawn up three scenarios. These have been utilised to identify the economic, social, and policy conditions that need to be met if hybrid potato breeding is to contribute to more sustainable cultivation and global food security. Consideration has also been given to what constitutes a promising business model for the Dutch potato sector. The three scenarios were discussed with experts, policymakers, and interested parties both inside and outside the sector during two workshops and a number of supplementary discussions.
The three scenarios are assumed to play out in the year 2040. They are based on different narratives, each constructed using four building blocks:
The scenarios show that societal forces influence the way in which a technological innovation such as hybrid potato breeding takes shape. Conversely, the technology concerned also affects relations within the sector. Understanding the interaction between the two offers pointers for guiding this innovation in the right direction.
Each scenario assumes the successful introduction of hybrid potato breeding and is based on a trend that is already apparent:
The three scenarios are briefly described on the basis of the four building blocks.
Scenario 1: Global Duopoly in 2040
In 2040, two multinationals dominate the potato sector. The world population has increased dramatically and potato products are extremely popular in many countries. This scenario makes use of the following four variable building blocks:
Scenario 2: Circular & High-Tech in 2040
In 2040, the Netherlands has been hit hard by global warming. A large proportion of Dutch agricultural land has had to make way for nature. This scenario makes use of the following four variable building blocks:
Scenario 3: Diversified Markets in 2040
In 2040, patents on the natural properties of plants have been abolished worldwide. Public organisations ensure the accessibility of suitable potato parent lines.
This scenario makes use of the following four variable building blocks:
Three lessons from the scenarios
The scenario workshops and discussions, and our analysis of them, yield the following three scenario-transcending lessons. They offer guidance for hybrid potato breeding to contribute to an ecologically sustainable and secure food supply, while maintaining a promising business model for the Dutch potato sector.
Lesson 1: Legislation and regulations for the development of new varieties
It is important to maintain an innovative market for breeders so that new potato varieties that contribute to food security in a sustainable manner continue to be developed. Governments must guarantee, through national and international legislation and regulations, that:
Governments can ensure this by:
Lesson 2: Ensure diversity of genes, varieties, and also cultivation systems
The different ways in which hybrid breeding is used in the various scenarios show that breeding technology alone does not offer a solution to issues of sustainability and food security.
The technology offers opportunities both for the unlocking of a broad genetic diversity and for developing varieties that are identical apart from the type of built- in resistance genes. The technology can thus be utilised in various breeding strategies and cultivation systems. It is important to promote a diversified approach. In order to ensure the societal embedding of the technology, careful consideration must be given to the combination of variety, cultivation system, and production chain. In the view of the parties involved, the government is the appropriate party to set conditions so that hybrid potato breeding actually helps to tackle societal challenges.
It is therefore up to the government to encourage market players:
Lesson 3: Invest in the know-how position of the Dutch potato sector
The three scenarios show that the leading position of the Dutch potato sector is not self-evident. However, the sector’s strong knowledge position can form the basis for a new business model in the form of the export of know-how. The sector can thus make a substantial contribution to optimising cultivation in other countries. This requires not only high-quality potato varieties but also knowledge of local production conditions and development of local potato infrastructures. With its knowledge of potato breeding, potato cultivation, and potato production chains, the Dutch potato sector can acquire a pivotal position in local production chains.
In order to continue to play a significant international role, it is therefore important for the Dutch potato sector and the Dutch government to continue to invest in the development of both basic and applied knowledge.
Preferred citation form:
Edelenbosch, R. and G. Munnichs (2020). Potatoes are the future – Three scenarios for hybrid potatoes and the global food supply. The Hague: Rathenau Instituut