In 2000, “the goal of the program was to see how we can help small-scale farmers here in the Andes” bring thousands of little-known Peruvian roots and tubers to market, says Devaux’s CIP’s regional director for Latin America. The potato crop, in particular native potatoes or landraces, as well as centuries of traditional knowledge around how best to cultivate them, “are assets these farmers have. Our challenge was this: how do we transform this asset into a business opportunity? How can we bring them to market and make them attractive to consumers?”
Devaux described the process he and the rest of the CIP team developed to try to reach these goals. Members of the “value chain” – from farmers who grew more than 3,000 varieties of native potato, to processors who would convert them into ready-to-eat snacks, to the consumers who would buy those snacks – were identified, and various innovative potato-cooking recipes explored with a number of chefs and cooking schools.
The crops in question grow in a range of brilliant hues, red and blue, orange and yellow, he says. “We evaluated how they would perform when cooked in oil, and we got these fantastic potato chips.” A combination of five or six different-colored chips, salted and packaged into individual servings, became a popular item among tourists browsing in duty-free shops in the Lima airport. “People tended to buy them more as a souvenir than as a snack.”
More products followed, such as blends of colorful potatoes coveted by chefs and home cooks alike. Not every product under the Papa Andina initiative succeeded, such as mashed potatoes made with the colorful crops. Yet no effort was wasted, Devaux contends.
“For CIP, [Papa Andina] was a way to align research activity with development needs,” he says.
Other organizations have since imitated CIP’s efforts in terms of bringing products generated by these crops to a broader marketplace. “Our idea [in launching Papa Andina] was good – but it was very small,” Devaux says. “To have it copied by others in a process we called ‘creative imitation’ has allowed the idea to grow.” To this day CIP continues to provide research support to organizations who seek to bring new Andean potato-based products to market, even some large companies who initially rejected the concept due to its small scale. “Once they saw the market was developing for these products, they came back to us,” Devaux says.
Several key changes have occurred in the wake of the program, Devaux notes. For one thing, “these potatoes had not been part of the national potato variety list” administered by Peru’s Ministry of Agriculture – and until they were on that list, their seeds could not formally be made virus free by to produce a healthy stock of quality seed . They have since been placed on that list, and a national holiday declared, May 30, National Potato Day, celebrated nationwide. “All of this gives more visibility to these potatoes and promotes their consumption.
Data gathered over the course of Papa Andina tells Devaux and the rest of the CIP staff who were involved in the project revealed measureable changes in the way native potatoes are marketed and sold at national and international levels – thereby increasing the demand for the potatoes and the,price they command. That data has also informed similar efforts in Boliva, Ecuador and other countries.
A less tangible but no less important benefit is the sense of national pride now felt by Peruvians as their unique native potatoes find a way to the tables of consumers around the globe.