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Peru's potato passion goes global

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Great article on BBC News, dateline Ayacucho, Peru.

Here's an excerpt:

[...]The Peruvian government is[...]looking at exporting native potatoes. They are exotic-looking, organic and have vitamins and amino acids that regular white potatoes do not have.

"We feel the quality of this product should have a market abroad, especially as we are opening markets with the US, Canada and we hope soon with the European Union," says [Peru's agriculture minister, Ismael] Benavides.[...]

[...]With gastronomic plaudits and its spiritual place in Andean culture assured, the question remains: can Peru's gift to the world now be used to help those who gave it to us in the first place?

The article talks a great deal about the place of the potato in Peruvian history and society, the fact that in the Peruvian diet, it's been eclipsed by rice and bread, and the fact that the government is trying to help it come back, for several reasons.

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It is indeed a great article! And timely, too.

Columbia was a fantastic place for potatoes, a variety and quality I'd not seen before, in the hundreds. And Peru is further up the chain, with, as they mention, almost 3,000 varieties. There's a link here with me blathering about the local spuds on sale in Bogota.

There's a worry, though, in South America, that the free trade agreements will have the big boys moving in and shoving aside the more expensive local varieties (lower yields, longer time to harvest) with things like Clone A that is better suited for cutting to french fries. Likewise, there's always the push to get something that will grow bigger, faster, cheaper. It just won't taste as good.

Of course, if you're worried about the cost of a loaf of bread to feed your children (as with the maid from Lima quoted in the article), this may not be an overriding concern.

But wouldn't it be a shame to lose the diversity of the original potato before we'd ever really had a chance to know it? To be able to eat potatoes instead of bar nuts is one of the great joys.

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I've gotta get back to Bogota soon.

Peter

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I am glad to read this - the poor potato got a bit of a shaft in the heirloom vegetable craze. Outside of Yokon Gold and some reds and some fingerlings, there didn't seem to be much interest. I think the seed savers and traders out there had a harder time trading the seed potatoes. After all, tomato, pepper, bean and melon seeds are easy to mail. Mailing a growout of seed potatoes is an exponentially larger operation. They take and awful lot of garden space as well.

The genetic diversity in the Latin American varieties is certainly worth preserving.

ETA: I knew Tom Wagner was working with Potatoes at the moment (and probably has for a number of years). He's the guy that cultivated the Green Zebra and Banana Legs Tomato varieties.

Here is a PDF of some of the potatoes he has in his seed bank:

Click Here

As you can see on page 4 of 5, even his Latin American varieties are limited. Amazing the Swedish varieties that he has collected. The working title of his next book is "Potatoes: Beyond Luther Burbank" I think.

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The UN has declared 2008 The International Year of the Potato.

As part of the international festivities there will be a recipe contest/competition, for which I am on the jury! and really looking forward to visiting the home of the potato, everyone's favourite tuber. well, almost everyones......

marlena

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