Environmental conditions are extremely hostile in the high Andes (altitudes > 3,800 meters above sea level or 12,500 feet above sea level), and farmers are subjected to periodic droughts, cold spells, and floods. There is little vegetation and livelihoods are limited to raising livestock and growing native potatoes for subsistence. In Peru, the 170,000 families living in the high Andes are the most poverty-stricken people in the country.
Native potato varieties that are adapted to these conditions are currently in danger of being lost. Technical development and scientific research on native potatoes are surprisingly underdeveloped in the Andean region, even though the cultivation of potatoes originated there over 10,000 years ago. Native potatoes have a number of advantages over commercial varieties, including excellent culinary qualities, good flavor, a low water and sugar content, and high content of dry matter, proteins, and minerals. They are easy to cook, fry, and process; and people are willing to pay higher prices for them. But yields are low as a result of some problems that need to be addressed, including virus infection and susceptibility to pests and diseases.
These problems will be addressed by facilitating farmers to experiment with and validate potato production methods based on ancestral indigenous knowledge combined with modern techniques and rigorous scientific research. Special emphasis will be placed on the use of quality virus-free seeds, the ecological management of soil, and integrated pest and disease management. The project will also focus on mechanisms required to take advantage of market opportunities.
The project will try to adapt a sustainable extension model developed by ITDG; the peasant promoters trained by the project go on to provide independent agricultural services (i.e. peasant-to-peasant technical advice) based on the Andean peasant economy's own social, cultural, and economic relations.