Peru, land of the Potato: How the ancient root can secure food supply in Peru facing climate change

Peru, land of the Potato: How the ancient root can secure food supply in Peru facing climate change

The awareness for global warming is increasing. The governments of various countries as well as civil organizations are making a great effort to take steps towards lessening the impacts of climate changes and adapting to its current conditions. Unfortunately, the people who are most affected by global warming are the least to blame for its acceleration.

Being one of the megadiverse countries with an extremely high biodiversity, Peru will be greatly affected. Peru’s minorities, such as the indigenous population, have already been impacted by global warning. Sadly, these are the people that have the fewest resources do adapt to future challenges. The region of Cusco has already been affected by the effects of the changing conditions.

How is Peru affected today by Climate Change?

“How is Peru affected today by Climate Change?”

How is Peru affected today by Climate Change?

The Andes, being a high mountain ecosystem, has been stricken with severe climate variations. The glaciers of Peru have reduced by 22%, which means a 12% reduction in water for the already dry coastal region of Peru. The overall temperature is increasing, which results in more evaporation of stored water. The frosts in the high mountain zones are getting stronger and are more frequent, which puts not only crops but peoples’ lives in the rural areas at risk.

Impacts caused by global warming in the Cusco Andean region are various. The agriculture and the population is suffering because of the water shortages and the land available for production of native potatoes and other basic crops is decreasing and the number of diseases has been increasing. Furthermore, the overall weather conditions are more unstable and variable than usual, which again causes challenges for food production (e.g. the rainy season in the Cusco region has been coming too early in the last years and is not as persistent as usual). In summary: hanging conditions through global warming put agriculture and thus food supply in Peru at risk.

How the Land of the Potato can use this potential to adapt to climate change

“How the Land of the Potato can use this potential to adapt to climate change”

How the Land of the Potato can use this potential to adapt to climate change

There are, however, efforts to convert Peru’s traditional and rural strengths into opportunities for a more secure future. Peru is the birthplace of the potato and still shows an astounding high diversity in its many different types. This is the reason why this ancient root carries such a high potential for adaptation to climate change.

There are over 4,000 edible varieties of the potato mostly found in the Andes regions. In terms of human consumption, the potato is the third most important food crop in the world after rice and wheat.

More than a billion people worldwide eat potatoes and total global crop production exceeds 300 million metric tons. The potato is a critical crop in terms of food security in the face of growing populations and increasing world hunger.

Different variations of potatoes are able to grow in different kinds of climates and weather conditions. How can this be utilized to adapt to a global problem? Well, the potato is surely not going to solve the problem of global warming for the whole world. But it can be a significant solution for how to secure a food supply in new conditions – and a remarkable example of how looking into the past can help us to manage future challenges. In the Potato Park (Parque de la Papa) in Pisac near the city of Cusco and located in the district of Cusco, several (indigenous) Quechua communities are collaborating with local NGOs to evaluate climate effects for the area and to come up with solutions for how to adapt. The Potato, as the name of the park says, is key in this process.

What is the Potato Park?

“What is the Potato Park?”

What is the Potato Park?

The Potato Park is an area of more than 12,000 ha in an altitude of 3,150 -5,000 m. It features beautiful landscapes of lakes and high mountain ecosystems, producing a great diversity of habitats including glaciers, lakes, native forests, pasturelands, rivers, wetlands and cultivated land that date back to the Incan times.

The Park is located 45km outside the city of Cusco, and is made up of six Quechua communities (Amaru, Chawaytire, Pampallacta, Paru-Paru, Sacaca and the Sector Percca de Kuyo Grande).

Together with the local Peruvian organization ANDES Asociación para la Naturaleza y el Desarrollo Sostenible (Association for Nature and a Sustainable Development) the park is managed with the main objective to inquire into the mechanisms and consequences of the impacts of climate change on native agrobiodiversity. They especially focus on native potatoes of wild varieties. Together with indigenous communities, the organization preserves agricultural knowledge and evaluates possibilities to grow various types of potatoes in different climates.

Saving Peruvian potato seeds in the global seed vault in Svalbard, Norway

“Saving Peruvian potato seeds in the global seed vault in Svalbard, Norway”

Saving Peruvian potato seeds in the global seed vault in Svalbard, Norway

In August 2015, round 750 potato seeds were stored in an artic vault in Norway to secure biodiversity for future generations. The Seed Bank in northern Norway currently holds over 860,000 food crop seeds from all over the world. Why? The purpose is to conserve the planet’s crop diversity for the food security of current and future generations. This last August, representatives of the Andean Quechua communities of the Potato Park have deposited seeds from their Andean potato varieties, preserving their historical and natural heritage.

Tours in the Potato Park with Dos Manos Travel Peru:

Being of natural heritage, the Potato Park is part of the ecotourism program for travelers. Tourists can come and fully immerse themselves in the world of the native potato. They can also enjoy the landscape, adventure through a circuit of trails, test typical Andean dishes from the “Papa Marka” restaurant, and learn from the local guides about the ecosystem and natural heritage of the site.
If you are interested in a community based tour to the Potato Park and share daily life with the local people, contact Dos Manos Travel Peru and ask for the brochure.

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