Peru’s Potato Museum: A Solution to the World Food Crisis?

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The Potato Museum in Peru: A Way to End the World Food Crisis?

Scientists have turned to Peru’s Potato Park, a unique resource, to help them deal with a climate that is changing quickly and growing threats to food security around the world. This living museum is high in the Andes and is home to a huge variety of potato types. They may be able to help solve the problems caused by climate change.

The 90-square-kilometer Potato Park in Cusco protects farmers’ traditional potato strains and the information they have passed down through the generations. Agronomists can make potatoes that are better able to handle droughts, floods, and frosts by growing them at different elevations and in different combinations.

The park has an amazing collection of 1,367 different kinds of potatoes, which makes it a live laboratory for potato diversity. The ancestors of Peruvian farmers tamed these potatoes about 7,000 years ago. They are the key to adjusting to climate change. But because of the effects of global warming on the area, pests are moving higher, which means farmers have to plant potatoes in the park’s upper areas where there is less land. To deal with this problem, people who live in the park are testing different types of local potatoes to see how well they can handle frost, hail, direct sunlight, and the Andean potato weevil.

A worker picking potatoes high in the Andes. Photograph: The International Potato Centre

Keeping and using the variety of potato strains is important for creating new strains that can do well in areas that are changing. Scientists study genetic engineering in labs, but farmers in Potato Park have been doing the same thing for thousands of years. To make crops more resilient, they often mix them with wild cousins.

At the International Potato Centre in Lima, the seeds they grow are kept in an on-site seed bank and the world’s biggest in vitro gene bank. These collections are very important for fighting world hunger and promoting farming that doesn’t harm the environment. For example, the Center’s work in Africa and Asia, especially in China, has helped fight food shortages and make money by encouraging the growth of biofortified potatoes that mature quickly.

A selection of native potato varieties including the cuchipa acan, alq’a piña, puka piña, conejito, condor huarmi, lleque and chiquibonita. Photograph: The International Potato Centre

As climate change speeds up, it is very important to protect species. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation says that between 1900 and 2000, 75% of crop diversity was lost. By 2055, the changing temperature could make it impossible for up to 22% of wild relatives of food crops to survive.

A selection of biofortified potatoes, grown to be higher in zinc and iron. Photograph: David Dudenhoeffer/The International Potato Centre

As land degradation gets worse and crop resilience becomes more important, the guardians of Potato Park give us hope that we can feed everyone. The Potato Museum in Peru could do a lot to help solve the world’s food problem by using the knowledge of local farmers and protecting the variety of potato types.

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