BEIJING (Commodity Online) : World's largest populated country, China has identified potato as the ideal crop that could help it alleviate poverty and serve as a bulwark against famine.

China is facing a huge challenge of feeding a growing nation on a shrinking supply of arable land while confronting severe water shortages has long been a major concern here.

That prompted the dragon nation to look for other sources apart from rice and wheat that consumes less water but yield far more calories per acre.

Chinese government has begun ramping up research, production and training related to this humble spud and hopes that it could face the challenge of feeding a growing nation on a shrinking supply of arable land while confronting severe water shortages.

China has to feed one-fifth of the world's population on one-tenth of its arable land, and the nation's expanding cities are consuming farmland at breakneck speed.

China estimates that by 2030, when its population is expected to level off at roughly 1.5 billion, it will need to produce an additional 100 million tons of food each year. Experts said, statistical reality could change eating habits in China.

In rice-cultivating regions of southern China, farmers can squeeze a round of fast-growing potatoes into their rice fields in between planting seasons. In some of the poorest parts of arid northern China, potatoes are among the few crops that grow.

China signed an agreement with the International Potato Center, a research organization, to jointly launch a major potato research center in Beijing.

Part of the center's broad mandate will be to develop varieties that grow quickly and dependably in specific regions throughout China.

However they said, potatoes won't replace rice or wheat as mainstays of Chinese cuisine anytime soon, if ever. They are eaten as side dishes, and the government has not yet named them a staple, a distinction that would mean preferential treatment in domestic markets and would carry significant cultural weight.

China has a long-standing policy of food self-sufficiency, growing 95 percent of the grain required to feed its people.

The country's sheer size means that a major crop failure or other food emergency here could have international ramifications, overwhelming world food markets with sudden demand.

The average acre of potato plants in China yields far fewer edible spuds than in other developing countries, mostly because farmers plant cheap, disease-prone seed.

China's national and local governments are trying to change that by increasing potato funding, hoping the investments will raise rural incomes and help maintain social stability by keeping farmers on their land in the country's poorest areas.