Main content

Hot Potatoes

Hot Potatoes

Hot Potatoes reveals the little-known story behind a disaster that changed science forever. Before the Potato Famine of the 1840s wiped out much of Ireland, scientists had little appreciation for the destructive power of microscopic pathogens. The very science of Plant Pathology was born when researchers tried to understand and conquer the blight that had wiped out potato crops throughout Europe.

More than 150 years later, potato late blight is still an immense global threat. Potatoes have gradually become one of the world's three most important sources of nutrition, especially in developing nations. But the failure to heed the warnings of an exceptional scientist back in the 1950s is having dire consequences at the beginning of 21st century.

Hot Potatoes tells the story of American plant geneticist, Dr. John Niederhauser, who was the first to discover that the fungus that destroyed crops in Ireland a century before had likely come from the remote Toluca Valley in Mexico. Starting in the 50s he began a decades-long quest to breed blight-resistant potatoes. He was sure that farmers in developing nations could scarcely afford the sophisticated chemical sprays that were becoming the staple of American, Canadian and European potato production. Darkly, he warned that blight might someday become resistant to many chemicals then available. Decades later, that prediction has come true.

Hot Potatoes is also the story of Don McMoran, a third-generation potato farmer in Washington State who speaks with painful honesty about the expense and uncertainty of using chemical sprays. And it is the tale of Rebecca Nelson, winner of a MacArthur 'genius grant', and a tireless resource for thousands of peasant farmers battling blight in the Peruvian Andes, birthplace of the potato.

Other films by John de Graaf are AFFLUENZA , ESCAPE FROM AFFLUENZA , BUYER BE FAIR , SILENT KILLER: The Unfinished Campaign against Hunger , THE MOTHERHOOD MANIFESTO , BEYOND ORGANIC , ON NATURE'S TERMS , FOR EARTH'S SAKE: The Life and Times of David Brower , DAVID BROWER: A Conversation with Scott Simon , and WHAT'S THE ECONOMY FOR, ANYWAY? .