Biocultural Heritage

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Film: Quechua farmers take their potato seeds to Svalbard

11 Sep 2017

The story of a spiritual journey made by Quechua farmers bringing their cherished potato seeds from the Potato Park, in the high Andes of Peru, to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on a remote island halfway between Norway and the North Pole, has been documented in a film.

UYWAY (the seed) the movie from Oxfam Novib on Vimeo.

The indigenous farmers took their precious but climate-endangered biocultural heritage to be preserved for future generations, [] and to help humanity maintain a crop that is key for the food security of the world.

The Potato Park is an area of around 9,000 hectares in a centre of origin and diversity of the potato near Cusco, which is managed by six Quechua communities based on customary laws. Since 2000, the communities have actively conserved native potatoes and other Andean agrobiodiversity, creating an in-situ genetic reserve.

They sustain approximately 1,345 different varieties of potato according to traditional classification (about 650 varieties according to scientific classification).

Their collection includes 410 native potato varieties that were repatriated from the International Potato Centre (CIP) in 2004. These varieties had been collected from the Potato Park communities and local area in the 1960s but had since been lost through genetic erosion.  

The film portrays the strong cultural and spiritual bonds between indigenous peoples and the seeds they have created and nurtured, through the emotions of indigenous women depositing their seeds.

This difficult journey was prompted by the severe impacts of climate change on their potatoes – rising soil pests correlated with rising temperatures have forced the lower planting line for potatoes up by 200 metres in the last 30 years, so potatoes are being driven to the top of the mountain beyond which there is no more land.

In response, the Potato Park farmers are working with CIP to test different varieties at different elevations and in different micro-climates, but it is clear that some varieties will not survive.  

This is the first time a community, rather than a gene bank, has deposited its seed collection in the Svalbard Seed Vault, which forms part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO) multi-lateral system for seed exchange.

The FAO director-general, state secretary of Norway, and Costa Rica's Minister of Agriculture and Livestock participated in the event on 27 August 2015.

Potatoes are critical to global food supply, and the world community is indebted to local farmers and indigenous peoples for the potato diversity that we all benefit from today.