Native Village
Youth and Education news
Volume 3   April 1, 2011

Svalbard seed vault to take Peruvian potato samples
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Condensed by Native Village

Potatoes are the world's most important non-cereal crop. They've been eaten for about 8,000 years.

Today, however, native species from the Peruvian highlands are at risk. Now farmers are sending 1,500 varieties of these potatoes to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the Arctic Circle. This "doomsday vault" will protect the potatoes' futures.

"Peruvian potato culture is under threat," said Alejandro Argumedo, a plant scientist. "The work we begin today will guarantee the availability of our incredible potato diversity for future generations."

The Svalbard Global Food Vault opened in 2008. It is designed to store seeds from all the world's crop collections and safeguard them against natural and human disasters. The vault is housed 130 metres inside a mountain  surrounded by permafrost and thick rock. This ensures that the samples will remain frozen even in the case of power failure. 

The Peruvian potatoes come from Cusco Potato Park, a 10,000 hectare farm in Peru. The Park was created by six indigenous communities to protect the region's biodiversity and food security. More than 4,000 varieties of native potatoes grow in the Andes.

One variety headed for Svalbard -- the "bride's potato" -- dates back to Incan times. Brides traditionally peeled these potatoes to prove they had the necessary skills to be a good wife

But Cusco Potato Park faces an uncertain future.

"Climate change will mean that traditional methods of maintaining this collection can no longer provide absolute guarantees," said Lino Mamani from the "potato guardians" collective. "Sending seeds to the [vault] will help us to provide a valuable back-up collection - the vault was built for the global community and we are going to use it."

The Global Crop Diversity Trust, which operates the facility, describes it as the "ultimate insurance policy for the world's food supply".

"The Potato Park highlights the active role that individual communities play in creating and conserving diversity," said Cary Fowler, the Trust's executive director.  "This partnership demonstrates the critical importance of the seed vault in backing up conservation efforts of all kinds."

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