Potato park boosts climate resilience, genetic diversity in Peru

By Barbara Fraser, originally published at Forests News

As a warming climate shrinks the land area suitable for growing potatoes, Quechua farmers high in the Peruvian Andes say the change is a sign that Mother Earth is angry, said Alejandro Argumedo, director of the non-profit ANDES Association.

In the “Potato Park” near Cusco, Peru, farmers have teamed up with scientists to protect the potatoes so crucial to their families’ diet, Argumedo said at the 2014 Global Landscapes Forum organized by CIFOR, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on the sidelines of the annual UN climate change conference in Lima, Peru. The event drew more than 1,700 people from 90 countries, including country climate negotiators, ministers, CEOs, indigenous leaders, civil society leaders and researchers.

Watch the full session here:

Andean farmers have been adapting to climate extremes, including heavy rains and droughts triggered by El Niño, for millennia, but changes have come faster in recent decades, Argumedo said.

The farmers grow potatoes at high elevations where cold temperatures keep pests and diseases in check. Over the past three decades, however, rising temperatures have forced them to plant farther and farther uphill.

In 1982, the lowest fields were at about 3,900 meters above sea level; this year, they were 200 meters higher, according to Dave Ellis, head of the gene bank at the International Potato Center (known by its acronym in Spanish, CIP) in Lima.

The farmers have noticed other changes in recent years, including retreating glaciers on nearby peaks, changes in precipitation and more extreme weather.

Six communities joined together in 2000 to create Potato Park, combining farming with other traditional activities and with ecotourism for a variety of income sources.

They also set out to conserve their native potato varieties and to recover the genetic diversity that had been lost over the years as they grew fewer varieties of native potatoes.

CIP has provided about 400 varieties from its collection. In return, the communities have donated samples of more than 200 varieties to the center.

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