The potato has its origins in Peru. In this country, hundreds of different landraces* are cultivated by farmers for consumption purposes, but also to conserve the various domestic varieties. Farmers who contribute to this biodiversity, also share in the value and / or yield thereof (benefit sharing). These farmers, in most cases of Indian (indigenous) heritage, are the custodians of their cultural heritage, the original potato varieties.
Landraces were widely cultivated in the Netherlands up to the beginning of the twentieth century. Plant breeding was introduced afterwards, and specific crossing was done between landraces. Strong selection was applied amongst the plants that resulted from the crossing descendants. Nowadays, the old landraces, like the Groninger blauwpeul, the Limburgse gele voedererwt, the Oldamster paardeboon or the Fries witbloei vlas, are once again receiving a great deal of attention.
However, conservation of the biodiversity of the Peruvian potato is easier said than done. Especially in view of the conditions in the Peruvian Andes, where the indigenous Indians often live an isolated lifestyle at high elevations, without the ability to read or write, and also aren’t organised under an umbrella organisation to represent them.
During the next three years, HZPC will support the initiative to help the first association of these special custodian farmers, with managerial and representative duties. The farmers’ association was founded in the first quarter of 2014 and consists of roughly 50 Indian families. Their living environment spans over Huánuco, Cerro de Pasco, Junin, Lima and Huancavelica, a region which is up to five times larger than the Netherlands. With respect to potato diversity, this forms a pool of roughly 2,500 varieties, of which an estimated 1,000 varieties, at the least, are unique in terms of shape and colour. In most cases, these varieties still hold their original Quechua name, a language spoken by the Indians in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.
Custodian farmers are acknowledged locally, because they are able to conserve their extensive potato variety collections, from generation to generation. These farmers are passionate about potatoes and do humanity a service by conserving the old varieties that are not included in the gene banks. In so doing, they ensure that the evolution of the potato continues at the centre of its origin.
The reality, however, is that these farmers and their families often live in poverty, and only have limited access to basic services like schooling and healthcare. The families have mixed production systems with a few guinea-pigs, lamas or alpacas, and various crops on small lots, for the most part, which together comprise half a hectare to one hectare. This implies that the farmers mostly produce just enough (and sometimes not enough) to be self-sufficient, and that extra production for sale is not possible.
Benefit sharing is a principle that has been in place since 1992, and has been set out in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGFA), amongst other things. However, there are very few examples of practical benefit sharing, where the funds really end up with the farmers and where the farmers also have a direct say in how the funds are used.
HZPC and CIP want to try and accomplish change in this respect, on a small scale. In Peru, the association of custodian farmers will be guided, on a voluntary basis, by a support group consisting of the CIP, Grupo Yanapai, Instituto Nacional de Innovacción Agraria (INIA) and the Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambiental (SPDA).
In the Netherlands, HZPC will bring this new initiative to the attention of various parties in the potato sector, to see whether the link between Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and benefit sharing for the safeguarding and maintenance of biodiversity, can be rolled out further in the future.