Aiming to preserve the biodiversity of the world's potato crop, Peruvian farmers yesterday launched a historic collaboration in which they will send 1,500 varieties of potatoes to a remote seed vault.
From the potato's ancestral homeland in the Peruvian Andes all the way to the Arctic Circle, six indigenous communities from Peru's Sacred Valley of the Incas have established the Cusco Potato Park, where they plan to cultivate potatoes in every shape, size and color. These include the red moro boli, the long, banana-shaped ttalaco and the gorgeous purple potatoes not uncommon in L.A. farmers markets.
Potatoes originated more than 8,000 years in the South American highlands, which is home to more than 4,000 varieties of native potato. The last few decades, however, have seen a steep decline in the cultivation of traditional varieties, and some are on the verge of disappearing.
During the first year of the project, the papas arariwas ("potato guardians" in Quechua), will develop pollination techniques to produce a botanical potato seed. The seed will then be dried, cleaned and packaged in foil for preservation. The project is a joint effort of the Potato Park with the Asociación Andes, the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the International Potato Center (CIP).
Three sets of the seed will be produced. One set will stay at the Potato Park, one set will be stored at the CIP in Lima and the third will be shipped to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV).
Located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the Arctic Circle (about 810 miles from the North Pole), the Seed Vault is an unmanned cold storage facility that preserves a variety of plant seeds in the event of regional or global crises. Funded by Norway's government, storage in the vault is free of charge.