In Greenland food self-sufficiency starts with potatoes | Polarjournal
Of high quality, the Greenlandic potato grows without chemical treatment and is particularly resistant to mould. Photo: Neqi A/S.

The Greenland government is aiming for greater agricultural self-sufficiency by producing more Greenlandic crops. Local potato production represents the first step.

Stalls full of fresh produce, rich in color and flavor, all grown in Greenland. This is what Kalistat Lund, Greenland’s Minister for Agriculture, Self-sufficiency, Energy and the Environment, envisions in an open letter published on August 4. Lund argues that opportunities for food self-sufficiency can be created by producing food on the island. Potatoes are just the beginning, and should pave the way for products such as rhubarb, eggs, lamb, lettuce, poultry, meat, seaweed, berries, honey and beet, all produced locally.

Although the project is ambitious: achieving food self-sufficiency on the island by 2040, it fails to specify how and to what extent this is to be accomplished.

According to figures from Naalakkersuisut, the Greenland government, the island’s degree of self-sufficiency is currently at 17%. By comparison, France and Germany are around 80% self-sufficient in the production of their own food, and Switzerland at 50%. Greenland is therefore forced to import most of its food products in order to supplement what is produced or harvested locally, notably by hunting and fishing. However, as Mr. Lund points out, local foods are often not available, and when they are, they are often unable to compete with the prices of foreign goods.

With 80% of its surface covered by ice, Greenland doesn’t leave much room for agriculture and livestock farming. However, the latter are developing, mainly in the southern part, but are still insufficient to sustain the island’s 56,000 inhabitants (Photo: Visit Greenland).

Imports render the region dependent on the outside world, particularly Denmark. According to The Observatory of Economic Complexity, the island imports most of its potatoes from Denmark, spending over a million dollars in the process. The company Neqi A/S, which processes and resells food produced in the south of the island, has a service contract with the government, redistributing potatoes grown off the island to retailers.

Paradoxically, Neqi A/S is struggling to turn a profit at a time when many stores and supermarkets are running out of potatoes. As reported in the Greenland weekly Sermitsiaq last March, the company sold only twelve tons of potatoes out of the 72 tons purchased. Of the 60 tons unsold, half were used to feed livestock, mainly sheep, while the rest were simply dumped.

Food waste that must be stopped

The reason for this is a lack of consumer confidence in the quality of the product sold by Neqi A/S, which particularly affects locally produced potatoes. In 2019, Greenlandic potatoes had dark spots and were widely rejected in favor of imported products. This was a major blow to retailers, who have since become wary of local produce, preferring to buy and resell imported potatoes.

And while this is no exception – every year, several tons of potatoes are thrown away – it is no less problematic for a country such as Greenland, which is suffering from food insufficiency.

With this in mind, Greenlandic politicians Mariane Paviasen and Stine Egede recently revived the potato debate, calling on the Ministry for Agriculture, Self-Sufficiency, Energy and the Environment to share its plans for an improved food supply. In response, the Ministry said it would prepare the first food self-sufficiency strategy. For the time being, this strategy focuses on improving the framework conditions for Greenlandic producers, to make it easier to distribute, transport and sell local food. At the same time, it calls on all parties, from producers to consumers, to give priority to local produce, starting with the Greenland potato.

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

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