Peru's Potato Park
Potato Park is a large agricultural area in the Southern Andes of Peru dedicated to “safe guarding native crops.” (http://www.parquedelapapa.org/) It is made up of six communities of 6,000+ farmers who use traditional Quechuan agricultural methods combined with more modern science to create a secure food source: potatoes. Park might sound misleading—it is a large cooperative farming community.
OK, to be honest, I haven’t thought much about potatoes. I haven’t really thought about potatoes at all. I grow potatoes in my garden and will spend hours digging for the yellow golden spuds, but still the extent of my THINKING about potatoes only goes so far as to ask myself, baked potatoes or potato soup? Potato salad maybe? Until recently I read the article “Peru’s Indigenous Preserve Biodiversity in Andes Potato Park.”
This article explores how Potato Park maintains genetic diversity among potato strains. It states, “by cultivating a variety of potatoes in small plots, farmers mitigate crop diseases that attack large plantations, thereby securing survival of varieties that re more resistant to disease or bad weather.” (http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/12/2/peru-s-indigenouspreservebiodiversityinandespotatopark.html) Farmers also cross-pollinate different strains of potatoes to find or create more resistant ones. These methods made me think about the relationship between western farming practices and the loss of genetic biodiversity. While large western agricultural companies, for example Monsanto, rely upon monoculture pesticides to “protect” their crops, there is considerable loss of genetic diversity that leaves crops more vulnerable to pests, disease and climate change. (“Peru Potato Guardians” http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/earthrise/2013/11/peru-potato-guardians-201311373042192269.html and http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/expanding-monoculture.html) The park’s more organic processes to counter climate change protect the crop’s genetic diversity.
Not only does Potato Park protect potatoes (that’s a mouthful!) but it also protects the history, tradition and culture of that area. In a previous blog post I wrote about how the loss of biodiversity affects the loss of world languages and culture. Potato Park is an amazing example of a non-western, non-globalized community that is protecting their history as well as creating food security in the face of even more extreme future climate changes. Reading about the Potato Park made me think about the importance of smaller, local gardening projects in the protection of genetic biodiversity. Large, industrial companies that strive to streamline agriculture also harm and change crop’s genetic biodiversity. Small farms and gardens are both more agriculturally sustainable as well as do less damage to habitat diversity and genetic biodiversity.