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Indigenous Seed Savers Gather in the Andes, Agree to Fight Climate Change with Biodiversity

For related articles and information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page and our Organic Transitions page.

Indigenous people from Asia and South America gather potato seed at the Parque de la Papa.
Photo by Adam Kerby / IIED.

On top of a rugged Andean mountain situated high in Peru's Cusco region, on 30,000 acres of conserved land known as Parque de la Papa (Spanish for "Potato Park"), indigenous farmers met in late April to discuss conditions they feared were threatening their ancestral lands.

They came from as far as Bhutan and China, and from as near as the mountain itself. They discovered that their cultures were more similar than they had expected, and that one concern had been troubling all of them: Climate change was making it harder to grow food on the mountains that had sustained them for centuries. They were meeting to do something about it.   

During a series of talks held between April 26 and May 2, the farmers forged a unique partnership entailing the exchange of indigenous crop varieties and farming methods, which they hope will protect agricultural biodiversity in the face of climate change. The exchange will begin with potatoes-a sturdy crop that thrives in the mountains of China, Bhutan, and Peru-and will enable the farmers to experiment together from a distance, so they can find the hardiest, most resilient varieties.

Doing so will ensure better food security for the farmers' families and communities because having more crops that can survive the unknown, potentially destructive effects of climate change will increase their yields and mitigate strains on various resources.

Crop diversity is a serious issue but one commonly overlooked in the United States, where the food system tends to rely on just a few varieties of each plant species; traditional farmers in the Andes, on the other hand, might grow hundreds of ancient potato varieties. The world has lost 75 percent of its crop diversity in the last 100 years, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Today, many crops are cultivated in high-tech laboratories and tightly controlled experimental farm plots. These environments fail to mimic real-life growing conditions, according to Krystyna Swiderska, who works for the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), which helped organize the April meeting. Most crops used in modern agriculture, in other words, can only grow in ideal situations and might not survive in the chaotic, unpredictable ones that exist in nature.    
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