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The ‘potato custodians’ in the Andes who are safeguarding this crop’s future

In the Peruvian Andes, “potato custodians” are preserving hundreds of varieties of our humble tuber. In this CNN video, aired a couple of days ago, you will meet one of the hundreds of Latin American “custodians” of indigenous potato varieties.

At the foothills of the central Peruvian Andes lives Esperanza Gabriel. She is a potato custodian, helping to conserve a personal collection of over 300 ancestral potato varieties. Stef de Haan from the International Potato Center (CIP) in Peru works with hundreds of potato custodians like Esperanza. These potato custodians have been protecting potato varieties for centuries.

“You can almost compare them to coin collectors or stamp collectors,” he says. “They are really important because potato custodians are basically the guardians on traditional knowledge and they’re also they’re also the guardians of the diversity itself.”

There are about 4,000 native potato varieties in the world, and most of them are grown in the Andes. Only a handful are available in supermarkets around the world.

Says Stef de Haan: “If we don’t preserve the whole genetic base of these potatoes, it would basically mean that we have no options in the future to diversify our food system. So, we would be highly dependent on very few varieties and it will make us extremely vulnerable.

Climate change is threatening agricultural systems, making this kind of diversity an insurance policy for our future food security.

“You could say that the Andean farmers are really the connoisseurs of the potatoes,” says De Haan.

“My mama told me, so now I want to teach my daughters so that they can continue to cultivate these varieties,” says Esperanza.

“It’s a laboratory not managed by scientists, it is a laboratory managed by farmers,” according to De Haan. “It’s a laboratory basically for more than 10,000 years of evolution in the hands of farmers.”

Source: CNN. Watch the video here
Photo: Courtesy CNN

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