The participation of custodian farmers of native potato diversity in the organic market (2014-2016)
Severin Polreich*1, Maria Scurrah*2, and Gaia Luziatelli*3
*1 Associate Scientist, Genetics, Genomics and Crop Improvement
*2 Director, NGO Grupo YANAPAI
*3 Post-doctoral researcher, Social and Health Sciences and Innovation Systems
The production of native potatoes
The high Andes of Peru is known globally as the center of origin and diversification of the potato and other Andean tubers. Currently, 2,694 native potato varieties have been collected in Peru and are registered in the International Potato Center (CIP) genebank. It is estimated that this number partially represents the diversity that is found within high Andean communities, and that was domesticated more than 7,000 years ago. The dynamics of the evolution of the potato remains in hands of contemporary farmers who live in the high Andes. Traditionally, the diversity of native potatoes are cultivated and consumed in a mixture of varieties (chaqru, chalo), for several reasons that we have recently understood. Many native floury potatoes contain high levels of micronutrients such as, iron, zinc, vitamin C and provitamin A, anthocyanin, etc. The consumption of a mixture of potato varieties contributes to improved nutrition, as it allows the specific nutritional benefits of each variety to complement what is contributed by other varieties; in this way a more balanced diet is achieved. In addition, mixed or “chaqru” cultivation of native potatoes promotes high eco-geographic versatility (resilience). The versatility of native potatoes is an essential feature to mitigate climatic and environmental uncertainties that characterize the high Andean ecosystems. Also, greater versatility of potato varieties helps to effectively use less soil resources through a system of crop rotation or “laymes,” which is a commonly practiced between 3,600 and 4,200 masl.
Chaqru just harvested from Don Gerardo’s field in Paccho Molino, Paucara-Huancavelica (2015)
The farmers participating in the organic market from 2014-2016 are from the districts of Paucara and Yauli and the community of Quilcas in the departments of Huancavelica and Junin. The respective communities are from areas that been identified as microcenters of diversity, as these areas contain a great wealth of local knowledge about the properties and management of native potato varieties. Currently, Yanapai and CIP are working with a baseline of more than 800 different native potato varieties that have been identified in six communities. The farmers in these communities have limited opportunities to sell native potatoes outside their districts. The organic market signifies a great opportunity for farmers to promote and sell the diversity of the native potatoes they grow to interested customers who subscribe to ethics of fair prices. Because of this, in the months after the harvest (May to August), farming families display a high level willingness to invest their time and resources, as participation requires two days of travel and assisting all day in the market on Saturdays. So far, approximately thirty families have been able to participate. It is estimated they sold six tones of potatoes, which provided them an estimated income of S/. 23,000 Soles (USD $6,802). The money earned translates to an appreciation for the efforts of farmers and the use of beneficial practices that manage fragile high Andean ecosystems in an integrated way. The quality of native potatoes is determined by the compliance of allowing soil to restore fertility through crop rotation practices, the use of organic fertilizers, direct sowing using the chaquitaccla to prevent soil erosion in small fields that are located on steep slopes, as well as sowing in areas of higher altitude that are free of pests and diseases. However, in the communities there are reports of difficulties such as a shortage of labor and limited soil fertility, these challenges require planning in advance. In addition, the rainy season, frosts, and hailstorms are increasingly harder to predict. Thus, to achieve a “sellable” product for the market is becoming more challenging everyday.
Farmer Marcelo Tiza who comes from the community of Quilcas (Huancayo), Junín in La Molina’s organic market (2016).
Challenges marketing the native potato
According to CENAGRO (2012) it is estimated that currently 22,000 families (110,000 people) depend on the production of native potatoes. The total potato cultivation covers a surface area of approximately 320,000 hectares (MINAGRI-DGSEP, campaign agricultural 2014-2015). It is estimated that 60,000 of those hectares are cultivated with native potato varieties each agricultural season (Cenagro, 2012). However, only a few varieties of native potatoes enter the markets of Lima for the following reasons:
- Native potato production relies on planting mixed varieties (chaqru). Each variety has its role in the agricultural system and there is a great variability between the varieties that families grow. Their frequency and abundance varies through the years by natural selection and the preferences of the farming families.
- Mixed “chaqru” production in the Andean area is primarily for self-consumption and represents an important source for food security for farmers. Native potato production depends on many families with few economic resources. For these families is difficult to formalize the process of production that the market requires.
- Potato production in high altitude areas cannot be intensified without running the risk of breaking the cycle of nutrients and lowering the quality of the soil. The traditional system of production requires that land lays fallow for periods of 5 to 7 years.
- Native potatoes in the markets are chosen by characteristics of conventional
One of the ways native potatoes, which fulfill multiple roles and are cultivated by poor families mainly for self-consumption, can be preserved is to connect farmers to fair and innovative markets, such as the organic market in La Molina where they can sell directly to the interested public. Farmers are grateful for the opportunities that the market has provided, as it plays an important role in incentivising the maintainence of potato diversity in its center of origin. Before farmers could not imagine that it was possible to sell a mixture of native potatoes. One farmer commented, “ I did not know that Chaqru could be sold, now I will pay more attention and will be able to sell more next year.” We are all (the communitites, Yanapai, and CIP) grateful for the experiences we are gaining from the opportunities that the organic market provides us. To encourage in-situ conservation of native potatoes, the potential of family farming needs to be considered and promoted, this requires an approach that focuses not only on the end product of the potato. The strength of potato diversity is how it can be utilized within integrated traditional production systems that help to preserve natural ecological resources within the fragile high Andean ecosystems. The product of “charqu” should be considered part of Peruvian society’s cultural heritage. Moreover, the direct link between producer and consumer needs to be strengthened. The organic market in La Molina has acted as a pilot to show that this connection is possible and beneficial. The price of 4.00 soles per kilo of native potatoes also serves to maintain the diversity of varieties, soil, and traditional practices, as well as promote the access of production knowledge to the public.
Selecting a mixture of native potato tubers in for the in Yauli, Huancavelica.
International Potato Center
Apartado 1558, Lima 12, Peru
Phone: +51 1 349 6017 ext 2107
Atahualpa 297 Concepción,
Huancayo: Arequipa 421 altos
LIMA: Tripoli 365 ( 801)
teléfono. 51 1 4467065