Parque de la Papa: Preserving Potato Biodiversity in the Andes

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.

Parque de la Papa is home to over 1,100 varieties of potatoes (Photo credit: Agricultural Research Service)

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.

The park’s hundreds of different varieties of potatoes are protected through agricultural systems designed to help preserve biodiversity. Farmers in the park grow a variety of potatoes in small plots, which places the potatoes at lower risk of disease than those on plantations where one outbreak can threaten a major portion of a farmer’s crop.

In addition to growing potatoes, the park also manages several other projects, including a processing center for natural medicines and soaps, a registry of the park’s biological diversity, an agreement with the International Potato Center for the repatriation of native potatoes, and an agro-ecotourism project, among others.

Visitors to the park can choose from guided three or five-day hikes through the Park’s villages and landscapes; a one-day Sacred Valley tour traveling along the road linking the six communities and visiting Kinsaqocha Lake, fields of native potatoes, handicrafts, and medicinal plants workshops; and a Cooking Circuit, where visitors spend a few hours at the park’s Papamanka restaurant learning about the Andean way to prepare food and sampling a variety of local dishes.

Do you know about other community projects that are helping to preserve biodiversity? Comment below!

To read more about indigenous crops, check out Soursop: Many Names, Many Flavors; Okra: Southern Charm and Resilient on the Farm; Shea: For People and Planet; and African Rock Fig: A Fruit with Historical Significance and Potential for the Future.

Eleanor Fausold is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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