The Growing Importance of Andean Root and Tuber Crops

image___en____previewThe ARTCs being studied and recorded within CIP’s Genebank include: Achira, Ahipa, Arracacha, Maca, Mashua, Mauka, Oca, Olluco, and Yacon. All of these root and tuber crops come from different biological families. Ivan Manrique, CIP’s ARTC Curator, explains that, “A large part of the diversity of these species is safeguarded within CIP, where further to protecting germplasm in the Genebank, their chemical composition and properties are being studied in collaboration with universities and institutions across the Andean region.”

image_blogimageTwenty years ago, CIP’s ARTC research began. Ivan Manrique explains that, “At this time Maca was on the verge of extinction with only 50 ha of cropland dedicated to its cultivation.” In order to safeguard the vestiges of this endangered crop, CIP contracted Quimica Suiza and several Peruvian Universities to undertake studies to identify the values of Maca. The results were ground breaking, and further to finding elevated levels of proteins and carbohydrates, Maca was shown to significantly increase sperm count and libido when human tests were carried out by the University Cayetano Heredia. Likely owing to its sexual component, Manrique explains that, “Demand for Maca exploded and cultivation of the crop grew from 50 ha to over 3000 ha cultivated today.”

While Maca products account for exports worth an estimated USD 10 million a year, Manrique believes that the next big ARTC to make an impact on the global market will be Yacon. Yacon has a high water content making it a great food to help with hydration. It also has elevated levels of potassium, making it good to avoid cramps. These two attributes make the consumption of Yacon important for farm workers at high altitudes. Furthermore, in Bolivia, Yacon has been consumed by diabetics for centuries. Manrique claims that, “It has a special type of sugar which makes it ideal to combat the effects of diabetes, and it is this quality,” Manrique explains, “that will make Yacon an important global crop in years to come.”

Peruvian Yacon products (including flour and medicinal products) account for exports worth an estimated USD 1.2 million a year, but Ivan Manrique would like to see this figure climb substantially over the coming years. Currently CIP’s ARTC department has a project underway to evaluate different varieties of Yacon from three different regions of Peru. The aim of this project is to study the qualities and various attributes of different varieties while identifying the strongest crops and best growing environments of Yacon in order to maximize crop production of Fructooligosaccharide (FOS, Yacon’s alternative sweetener), as well as increasing root productivity of crops.

image_blogimageFurther to Yacon, the ARTC department is also currently undertaking an extensive study of Ocaand Olluco. The aim of this research is to further our understanding of the crops by conducting DNA tests and other techniques on over 700 material accessions of Oca and another 500 of Olluco to develop core collections for both crops. These core collections will greatly expand our understanding of the tubers, their nutritional values, and how CIP can improve the growth of these beneficial crops for farmers throughout the Andean region, and further across the world.

The ARTC department makes its research readily available; and once material accessions have been treated for viruses using the Thermotherapy laboratory at the Genebank, CIP makes these materials available to the outside world for research, genetic improvements, and training. Ivan Manrique points out that the virus-free materials are also made immediately available to the farmers and rural communities where the materials were originally collected in order to improve crop production in these areas.

Crops, Root, Tuber