Preserving potatoes and culture

Peruvian farmers prepare to send seeds of more than 1,500 potato varieties to the safety of an Arctic vault

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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Fried, baked, or mashed, potatoes are prevalent in most Westerner's diets. But they're more than just a side dish to Peru's indigenous communities; the starchy tubers are an essential part of society. But with climate change threatening the valued crop, local potato farmers are scrambling to save the imperiled plants.
Potato Park in Cusco, Peru
Asociación ANDES
"The encroachment of dry lands is a big concern," says Alejandro Argumedo, a plant scientist at the linkurl:Potato Park; in Cusco, which is home to 1,500 of the region's potato varieties and more than 6,000 local farmers. As temperatures climb, farmers are forced to plant their crops higher and higher in the mountains. "As this trend continues, we won't have land to plant potatoes. The future doesn't look that bright if we don't do something."To circumvent a potentially catastrophic potato crash, Peruvian farmers are sending seeds from heirloom varieties of the root vegetables...

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