By Eleanor Fausold
The Andes Mountains are home to a diverse range of plant and animal species. Settled in the heart of these mountains near Cusco, Peru, lies Parque de la Papa (Potato Park), a park dedicated to preserving this biodiversity and protecting one of the world’s most widely-recognized crops—the potato.
The potato is believed to have originated in the southern Peruvian Andes, where indigenous groups used 20 native varieties to domesticate the crop and create some 2,300 new varieties. The park itself is home to more than 700 local varieties, over 400 varieties repatriated from the International Potato Center, and 5 wild varieties.
Parque de la Papa is made up of more than 6,000 people who live in six communities. These six communities of native people used to be separate from one another, but now they are united in an effort to preserve and recover the biodiversity of their potatoes. Projects within the park are administered by the communities as a group, which ensures community participation and sharing of benefits. Legally, the communities comprise part of the Association of Communities of Potato Park, the administrative body of the park. This association forms the park’s internal organization and carries out important functions such as creating and promoting regulations and sustainable practices that protect that park’s character, environment, and natural resources.
Much of the way Andean natives treat their crops is influenced by their rich social and cultural beliefs. According to the Andean world view, one cultural and spiritual concept, Pachamama, unites everything in nature, including human beings, plants, earth, water, and valleys. Similar to the concept of Mother Earth, Pachamama emphasizes the sacred relationship with one’s surroundings and is celebrated regularly through year-round festivities. Adherence to this concept, in conjunction with the three core Andean Principles of Balance, Reciprocity, and Duality, helps maintain equity and preserve biodiversity within the park.