Unique partnership continues between Pisaq Potato Park and International Potato Center

Its objective: the preservation and promotion of native potato varieties in the Park, through repatriation of cultivars, and the identification of traditional and scientific practices for food security and self-sustaining development, in particular addressing the effects of climate change on the crop.

A large delegation of residents from the Potato Park, men, women and children, all dressed in ceremonial costume set the tone for the event. Prior to signing, a traditional offering, kintuy, was made to Mother Earth. The solemn ritual was accompanied by deep resonant sounds from traditional Andean horns pututos and drums.

The highlight of the ceremony came when two farmers symbolically delivered a selection of native potatoes from their land to CIP’s director, for safekeeping in the Center’s genebank.

“We bring our native potatoes, which are threatened by climate change, so that CIP can store them, study them, and return them to us healthier when they disappear from our fields,” said one of the women to the director.

Visibly moved, Dr Anderson received them and promised to preserve them as befits what they are: a genetic treasure. Shortly afterwards they were handed over to the genebank’s curators to legalize their entry to the Center.

“This ceremony has been a profound demonstration of the significance of this agreement, and the desire of our partners from these Andean communities to share and preserve this vital natural resource” said Dr Anderson. “As the UN International Year of Biodiversity draws to an end, it is a fitting tribute to the rich treasure trove of biodiversity represented in these native potatoes.”

During the signing ceremony, CIP’s Director General, Dr Pamela K. Anderson stressed the importance of this unique kind of agreement, between an international scientific organization such as CIP and six high-Andean Quechua speaking communities.

This is the second agreement the Center has signed with the Potato Park. The first – signed in December 2004 – led to the repatriation of more than 400 native varieties to the Park, restoring the biodiversity and productivity of potato in the area. Clean seed from these native varieties, now free from disease is being successfully managed by the communities’ farmers.

758 samples from local native potato varieties were analyzed for genetic characterization. Dr Anderson said that an initial key finding was the high genetic diversity that existed among the varieties.

She also pointed to other achievements over the last five years: scientific validation of much of the ancestral wisdom around potato cultivation, the exchange of scientific and local knowledge, and the acknowledgement and strengthening of the traditional potato arariwa or guardians who guarantee the preservation of the crop’s biodiversity for the benefit of both present and future generations.

Lino Mamani Huaracca, from the Potato Park explains the agreement’s importance to these communities located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Cusco. “By maintaining potato’s biodiversity we are safeguarding our food source. We can replace sick potatoes with new, clean material and every family is benefitting from this. At the same time we are reclaiming and reinforcing our culture, our customs, our dances.”

President of the Potato Park, Alejandro Sutta Pacco, speaking in Quechua to those gathered for the ceremony, also focused on the importance of the agreement, saying that it was part of a deep rooted Andean tradition of ayni (collaboration) and constituted a sacred commitment between the parties.

The “Agreement for the repatriation, restoration and monitoring of native potato agro-biodiversity and related community knowledge systems” makes an important contribution to the International Year of Biodiversity. It echoes the concerns of the recent debate during the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 10) addressing the need to promote agro-biodiversity as a means to eradicate poverty and generate social and economic development.

In accordance with decisions adopted by COP 10 with respect to the importance of developing approaches to support indigenous territories in the conservation of agro-biodiversity, the agreement will place special emphasis on studies directed at the adaptation of native potato varieties to climate change.

This will ensure the continued survival of these potatoes and the food security of vulnerable communities in times of volatile and rapidly changing weather patterns.