The potato, though a simple food, was actually a harbinger of peace to Europe. It brought economic stability that countries were less willing to gamble in a war.
Potatoes were first discovered in Latin America in the 1400s and brought to Europe. They revolutionized agriculture because they could be grown in many different types of soil, are drought resistant, and can be stored for a long time. Potatoes can be prepared in many different forms, such as fried, boiled, and baked. Most Europe countries have a traditionally potato-based dish, whether it be colcannon, dumplings, moussaka, French fries, vodka, and gnocchi. Even now, it is the forth most consumed crop world-wide.
In a study published for the National Bureau of Economic Research, the introduction of the potato is linked historically with peace and prosperity. The researchers examined 2,477 battles fought in 899 wars over 500 years in Europe.
The introduction of the potato lowered the cost of land. Land was more valuable before because you need a lot of prime land to grow the amount of crops necessary to feed a country. Wars were fought to secure prime agricultural land. However, potatoes could be grown on smaller pieces of land and still produce a good yield, even in poorer soils. Then land was less valuable so fewer people fought over it.
The more reliable harvests boosted incomes for farmers and for the state, with higher tax revenues. There was more political stability within countries as peasants and rulers had increased income. When a country was weighing out if it was worth it to go to war or recolt, more and more often, it just wasn’t worth it anymore. The citizens were more afraid to lose their resources. It became “too expensive to engage in combat.”
Additionally, potatoes had a good nutritional value and supported growing populations. They acted as a buffer for extreme weather conditions, such as cold weather and droughts. These extreme weather conditions can prompt a country to engage in war.
“The climatic shocks observed over time, like rough winters, have tended to favor the emergence of conflicts,” said Iyigun, a University of Colorado professor. “People have had to fight to survive.”
Potatoes gave Europeans a greater degree of food security, which in turn, stabilizes the whole region. A lesson can be taken from history, in that currently poor countries need to increase their food stability and reliability to become more politically stable.