Bolivian farmers look to adapt to climate change with smart potatoes
By Gabriel Romano
La Paz, Sep 6 (EFE).- Bolivian potato farmers are responding to the threat of climate change by combining the knowhow of previous generations with climate-smart technologies and practices, a process that includes reviving native varieties of that crop that are more resistant to cold and drought.
Climate change “has significantly affected potato production,” Leonel Mejia, a 14-year-old farmer who has dedicated himself to that trade for the past three years, told Efe. “Production hasn’t been that good. And we’ve even been affected (economically) because potato prices have fallen.”
Mejia is known in Patacamaya – a municipality in La Paz department’s Altiplano region – for the knowledge he acquired during the pandemic about native potato varieties and their properties.
He told Efe that the varieties of potatoes that are produced for subsistence purposes and date back many generations have been on a sharply downward trend relative to fast-growing commercial species.
However, with the pandemic, “we’re revaluing native potatoes,” he said in detailing the qualities of those tubers, including those that can be used to make flour and accompany salads, those that are cooked underground on heated stones and “gourmet” varieties.
Mejia noted though that traditional Bolivian farming practices are essentially practical and that “greater scientific and theoretical knowledge” is needed to allow for greater productive innovation.
Bolivia has more than 1,500 varieties of native potatoes and many of them are able to adapt to climate variations, Santiago Velez, representative of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture in Bolivia, told Efe.
Velez said it is important to rediscover traditional values and knowledge, such as respect for lunar cycles, as part of the process of adapting to climate change.
In that regard, he stressed the need to learn about Bolivia’s native potato varieties and combine them with “climate-smart” cultivation techniques.
Velez said climate-smart agriculture implies a “host of practices” that merge science with ancestral knowledge and which can help establish which species are most appropriate for planting in areas with specific altitude, humidity, temperature and soil characteristics, while also taking into account cultural aspects.
In that regard, Mejia and Martha Bautista, a female farmer over the age of 60 from the Altiplano region of La Paz department, agreed that farmers should employ organic crop protection techniques rather than use chemical products that harm soil fertility.
Velez, for his part, said “smart” potato farming also implies combining the use of native seeds with organic production elements. EFE