Profitable opportunities: how agriculture and mining can work hand in hand

PERUMIN, Arequipa-Peru, September 20, 2019

Summary: Ginya Truitt Nakata, the International Potato Center’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, emphasizes how the rich agrobiodiversity of potato varieties, together with the knowledge generated by the Center, can be key for helping the mining sector boost both its profitability and its mission to improve the wellbeing of the communities in its area of influence, and to face such transcendental challenges such as securing access to clean water, fighting malnutrition and anemia, and strengthening new and innovative business ventures.


Good morning everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here on behalf of the International Potato Center, also known as CIP. My name is Ginya Truitt Nakata and I’m the Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. I’d like to thank PERUMIN’s organizers for inviting me.

I imagine you’re wondering what potatoes have to do with the mining sector? Well, here in Peru, the potato has many roles. If can be sustenance, emblematic, even medicinal. I tell you, I’m a little nervous here and I could use some potato medicine to calm the nerves about now. Please excuse me while tap into the power of native potatoes before continuing with my speech. [Takes a sip of 14 Inkas vodka].

This is good vodka! If you haven’t already, I recommend you stop y the CIP stand when I’m done and try a glass of 14 Inkas vodka. It’s made from native potatoes by innovative Peruvian entrepreneurs. Last year it won the gold medal at New York’s prestigious World Wines and Spirits Competition. And don’t worry, the first one is on the house.

So; let’s take this step by step. Maybe before this convention, some of you were unaware that there was an international center dedicated to potato research, headquartered here in Peru, and that it is part of a network of 15 research centers around the world dedicated to varied agricultural issues.  You learn something new every day.

In addition to researching food systems, and roots and tubers, at CIP—and by CIP I mean the International Potato Center not the Colegio de Ingenieros del Perú—we use the information we get from that research around the world to foster innovative solutions, ranging from the skills needed to create a drink worthy of the gods to devising solutions to pressing global problems such as hunger, poverty, the effects of climate change and the loss of agrobiodiversity.

When it comes to the value of agrobiodiversity, we can see clear examples in potatoes, which are so much more than an ingredient of Peru’s amazing cuisine. In order to broaden our perspective and better understand the link to mining, let me tell you a little more about this important Andean tuber and its significance for the country.

Peru is home to more than three thousand potato varieties, much more diversity than is found in any other country, which represents about two thirds of all the varieties that exist worldwide. In 2018, Peru produced more than five million tons of potatoes. Potatoes are the basis of the livelihoods of more than 700 thousand families distributed across 19 regions in the country; mainly in Puno, Huánuco, La Libertad, Apurímac, Cusco, Junín, Arequipa, Ayacucho and Cajamarca.  700 thousand families; that’s more than twice the population of Arequipa.

Guess who else has a prominent presence in most of these regions. You, the companies who are engaged in mineral extraction.

And it’s in these shared spaces that we find the first thing that links us with local communities: water.

Peru is considered one of the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, especially with regards to water scarcity, since the Andean glaciers continue to melt. Water is a limited resource, and both mining operations and the potato crop need it to exist.

Achieving sustainability and a better use of this resource is an urgent priority, given that climate change will make access more difficult as the Peruvian population grows by up to 50% over the next 30 years. This is corroborated by several different scientific studies pointing to a direct correlation between social and environmental conflicts due to water shortages in mining areas.  At the same time, 70% of Peru’s energy comes from hydroelectric power, which further underscores the critical importance of this resource.

On top of the environmental challenges, these regions face another common issue: anaemia and malnutrition.

Puno, for example, is Peru’s main potato producer, and the location of important deposits of silver, uranium and lithium. But it is also the region with the highest rates of childhood anaemia. In 2017, more than a quarter of its rural population was affected by chronic malnutrition, well above the urban average.

So, what’s happening? Many people need to learn that potato varieties are beneficial to their health and well-being and include them in their diets. In so doing, they will be getting the nutrients they need to combat malnutrition.

There are, for example, varieties of our flagship tuber that have double the protein content of corn or wheat, and four times the calcium of rice.

At CIP we have already collected and documented these varieties, and have developed new ones, with increased percentages, not only of these nutrients but also with 50% more iron and zinc content.

And do you know what else we are working on?  Potatoes that require minimum water for growth.

We are doing this alongside a model which aids decision making in terms of how, when, and how much water is needed for optimal irrigation of the potato crop.  Results are helping to create an irrigation calendar which also takes into account information on soil and climate conditions provided by drones and satellites.

On top of this, we are developing potatoes with greater resistance to pests and diseases common to Peru, and which are tolerant to temperature extremes and drought.

Now, imagine all we could achieve by clinking the reach of a sector as powerful as mining and the knowledge of CIP and its partner institutions. We could bring about meaningful change in the lives of thousands of families, some of whom are also in your work force.

We can already point to success stories where our presence and that of the mining sector has produced significant improvements in health, employment and education indicators within its areas of direct influence. History and our experience have made it quite evident that the combined efforts of two entities with a common purpose produces many more beneficial results than we can hope to achieve separately.

There is one more issue that I should mention. The ingredients of this wonderful elixir, like those of so many innovative enterprises, run the risk of disappearing, preventing me from ever again being able to make a public presentation.

The frosts and excessive solar irradiation resulting from climate change alter the normal growth of crops; among them the Huamantanga and Qeqorani potato varieties used by the 14 Inkas company.  Other varieties used by Andean communities for chuño, or the producers of the native potato chips that our children like to eat, are also in danger.

But by working hand in hand with farmers, we are developing methodologies to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change, and maintain these varieties. We do this by promoting and studying soil management strategies to retain more carbon in high Andean agri-food systems, thereby limiting the environmental impact on crops such as potato, quinoa, oca, olluco and tarwi.

Together, we can expand these benefits in order to sustain the future and our way of life.

The mining sector should seize the opportunity to play a transcendental role in confronting climate change, malnutrition and other problems affecting the rural populations that we live and work alongside. We look forward to seeing you at our CIP stand, just outside the auditorium, where we can show you our work, and that of the talented entrepreneurs who use potato in their businesses.

The future is in our hands. Think of the legacy you can leave and the impact on the day-to-day lives of millions, including your children and grandchildren.  We are ready to join you in these efforts. The question is, are you ready to join us?