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Improving Your Diet, Improving Lives – the Social Impact of Colorful Potatoes

By - May 2 2016

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Your predilection for healthy foods has likely prompted you to broaden your grocery store horizons, motivating you to peruse the aisles for novel and nutritious foods to add to the menu. But if this predilection for the healthy is matched by a commitment to social impact, we have a key item to add to your list, if it’s not on there already. This item can help you to improve the lives of smallholder Andean farmers, and to help preserve ancient cultural food resources in the process.

The truth is, until a few years ago those gourmet colored potatoes that you buy at the supermarket and the colored potato chips that complement your delicious “grab-and-go” salads were an ancient crop, known only by Andean peoples and in danger of extinction. Traditionally, the Andean farmers who produce them have obtained little to no profitability from the crop, drastically reducing the cultivation of these native potatoes until the screams for rescue were finally heard. Those screams were answered by you, and your fellow potato-loving consumers. Feeling proud yet? Well, there’s more.

Given the growing popularity of Andean cuisine and the rise of increasingly informed and demanding consumers, it is no surprise that these tubers are appreciated for their pleasant culinary and nutritional properties. Thanks to a regional project funded by FONTAGRO, which brought together many of the actors involved in the value chain of these native potatoes, producers achieved a sustained increase in their income. This in turn has helped to improve the quality of life for their families, capitalized on biodiversity that these native potatoes add, and  contributed to the conservation of the food and cultural resources of the Andean peoples.

Furthermore, the project’s collective effort has helped to identify better options for the use of highly toxic pesticides. Improved production techniques were investigated and implemented, increasing yields between 20% and 24%. However, the inclusion of small farmers in high value chains was the project’s primary achievement. In this area, the project was able to identify new market niches: restaurants, hotels, supermarkets, gourmet fairs, fair trade, among others, that facilitated the integration of Andean farmers into value chains at unprecedented rates. Furthermore, value-added products such as gourmet potatoes, thickeners, colored chips, purees, frozen precooked potatoes, and starches were developed and promoted at national and international levels.

Today, many farmers and producer associations sell potatoes directly to large companies who in turn distribute to retail partners from whom you buy your nutritional colored potatoes. So consequently, in many cases, these potatoes bring you and Andean farmers together, transforming the consumer into an agent of social change as well.

Research and innovation projects that help family farmers to access the market make a positive impact on the quality of life of their families and their communities. FONTAGRO supports these projects through various cooperation schemes, calls for proposals is one of them. This year, FONTAGRO launched its 2016 call, aimed at promoting the development of value chains in a framework of equity and sustainability.

The call will finance projects of up to US$400,000 to support innovation platforms formed by public and private stakeholders in two or more member countries to work in a coordinated manner to promote technological, organizational and institutional innovations that improve performance and income of family farming and their access to markets.

For more information, visit the following link:http://www.fontagro.org/convocatorias/convocatoria-2016
Contact: fontagro@iadb.org

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