Andean Potatoes Add Colors to Lima Farmers’ Market

(26 June 2013) Luis Quincho left his home in Castillapata, high in the mountains of Peru’s Huancavelica region, at 7pm on Friday to arrive by

bus in Lima at 6am on Saturday, with 220 kg of potatoes in tow. He was headed for the Mercado Saludable (Healthy Market in Spanish) in the district of La Molina, one of several farmers’ markets in the Peruvian capital that specialize in organic products.

As I arrived to meet him, he looked surprisingly fresh after such a long night of travel, dressed in the colorful, traditional attire of his community. He was glad to have an opportunity to show and sell his chaqru: a mix of native potato varieties that he grows at more than 3,800 meters above sea level, as his father and ancestors did before him.

Luis was invited to Lima by the Chirapaq Ñan initiative, a collaboration of the International Potato Center (CIP) and local organizations that is promoting in situ conservation and monitoring of native potatoes in the Andes region. The Mercado Saludable offers an excellent venue to showcase the initiative and give different farmers each Saturday an opportunity to sell their potatoes. It has been quite successful so far, with farmers coming from Huancavelica in June, and farmers from the Junín region scheduled for July.

Luis Quincho - Mercado Saludable - Chirapaq ÑanLong a staple in the highlands, native potatoes have become increasingly popular among urban consumers in recent years. The trend is the result of a long-term effort, but there remains much to be done. Thanks to the work of CIP and an array of other actors, including celebrity chefs, consumers in Lima have slowly come to realize that what they see in supermarkets doesn’t do justice to the cornucopia of potato diversity present in the Andes.

Native potatoes come in an array of colors and shapes, and trying one for the first time is like rediscovering what the word potato means. However, some initial shoppers were skeptical about Luis’s potatoes. One of them said, “They all look the same!” This was because the dirt from his field had given them a dull brown hue. After a quick wash, their true colors were revealed, showing a diversity that dispelled all doubts. “Give me two kilos,” the shopper said.

Chirapaq Ñan had a table nearby with samples of various native potatoes displayed with their names in Quechua, the traditional language of the Peruvian Andes. Shoppers at the farmers’ market, a mix of Peruvians and a few foreigners, were clearly impressed as they admired the varied shapes and colors of those native tubers. One of them commented that they looked as if they were made of clay and painted.

A recurrent question, which didn’t come as a surprise at a “healthy market,” was about the fertilizers used to grow the potatoes. “Any chemical inputs?” shoppers would ask Luis. “Only sheep and alpaca manure,” he would answer.

Mercado Saludable - Chirapaq Ñan - MuestrasLuis left Lima quite happy with his sales. Though the opportunity to sell at the market would be given to other farmers participating in Chirapaq Ñan in the coming weeks, he explained that he planned to return to the capital soon to sell colorful woolen chullos (caps), scarves and other items knitted by his wife. Given that the southern winter has settled into the city, they’ll no doubt sell as well as his potatoes.

By Véronique Durroux-Malpartida