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From the highlands to high cuisine: Ecuador’s journey with native potatoes

In the highlands of Ecuador, a remarkable transformation is unfolding in the world of agriculture, particularly in the cultivation and commercialization of native potatoes, according to an article titled “KIWA, Revalorizing Native Potatoes in Ecuador“, published on the World Potato Congress Inc website.

According to the author of the article, Martin Acosta (INALPROCES, Ecuador) the story begins with Ecuador’s significant potato production, a staple in its highlands and a source of sustenance and income for many families. In 2021, the country produced 250,000 tons of potatoes from 19,088 hectares, primarily by small-scale farmers.

The narrative then shifts to the heart of the Andes, where native potatoes – an ancestral crop – are more than just food; they symbolize the enduring heritage of Ecuadorian Andean communities. However, despite their high nutrient density and cultural value, these native varieties faced oblivion due to market neglect.

Mr. Manuel Pilamunga member of Agropapa while
harvesting black heart native potatoes (Yana Shungo variety).
Credit Danilo Vizcarra

Enter a collaborative effort in 2010 between INIAP (the National Agriculture Research Institute) and the International Potato Center (CIP), setting the stage for the renaissance of these native potatoes.

This partnership, which included the private company INALPROCES and the farmer organization AGROPAPA aimed to develop market opportunities for native potato varieties.

The initiative identified two native potato varieties, INIAP-Puca Shungo (Red Heart) and INIAP-Yana Shungo (Black Heart), for their unique processing characteristics. These were used to produce high-quality, naturally colored potato chips, a commercial innovation that also spurred technological advancements in seed production and farmer training.

The launch of the Kiwa brand, named after the Quechua word for “green,” signified a commitment to social and environmental responsibility. Garnering international recognition, Kiwa’s Native Andean potatoes achieved global market penetration, with 80% of sales coming from exports to countries like the USA, Paraguay, and Saudi Arabia.

The Kiwa brand distinguishes itself with their intense colors and high antioxidant levels. The project not only introduced a commercial innovation but also spurred technological advancements in seed production and farmer training. The success of Kiwa chips, recognized globally for their innovation, opened international markets, significantly boosting sales.

The business model of Kiwa, paying farmers a stable and higher price for their produce, has provided economic stability and growth opportunities. While the focus has been on export markets, challenges remain in enhancing the visibility and consumption of native potato products in the Ecuadorian market.

This initiative has not only contributed to the economic empowerment of rural Andean farmers but also highlighted the importance of native biodiversity. It underscores the need for continued support and partnership between the public and private sectors to further develop this promising industry.

Source: World Potato Congress Inc. Read the original story here
Kiwa Natural Life
Cover image: Bag of Kiwa native potato mix. Credit Sophia Narvaez

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