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Science to Save Colombia's "Native" Potato - 11/22/2022

Science to Save Colombia’s “Native” Potato – 11/22/2022

Three scientists gather around several dark-skinned tubers with colorful interiors. Then, in the lab, they straighten their own muscles. This is how they are trying to save the “indigenous” potato, more resistant to climate change, but threatened by the lack of commercial interest in Colombia.

Ismail Villanueva, Adriana Sainz and María del Pilar Marquez, among other researchers, established their base camp on a small farm in the middle of the Carmen de Caroba mountains, 100 kilometers north of Bogota.

Extreme changes in temperature and heavy rains in this region, as a result of global warming, have led many farmers to stop planting potatoes.

“Now it’s raining a lot (…) It’s a very strong change, very sudden. The tubers are spoiling, because the fields are soaked,” explains Adriana Saenz, from the Javriana University project, which seeks to protect the species.

On the small plot, 38 varieties of “original” or heirloom potatoes are grown. When cut, their yellow, red or purple colors catch the eye.

The indigenous people have a “genetic heritage” that makes them more resistant to “drought or heavy rain”, according to Professor Marques, but buyers prefer the more traditional tubers sold in markets.

A few meters from the garden, the strongest roots growing attached to the bark are cleaned with distilled water and hypochlorite.

The meristem, a plant tissue responsible for plant growth and the formation of other types of tissues, is extracted from the inside.

“This is where it all begins,” Marquez says.

The few cells selected under a microscope become seedlings, which are kept for three weeks in vials of clear liquid with nutrients.

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After that, they are placed in plastic bags in a greenhouse, and when they are ready, they are planted in the province of Cundinamarca, the capital of which is Bogotá, and in neighboring Boyacá.

– potatoes for livestock –

“We may have already lost a little bit [espécies]So we want to save these potatoes,” says Sanz.

Farmers from and around Carmen de Caroba have answered the call of specialists, with a complex task. Faced with crop loss and difficulty in accessing the market, producers began to select livestock.

“In the past, this whole area was potatoes, potatoes, potatoes. Then, because of (…) the summer, it became [um território] To raise livestock,” says farmer Hector Rincon, who collaborates with the initiative.

From the lab and from “in vitro” cultivation of enzyme canes, scientists are improving the “performance” of the species, Marques explains, and caution that this is not “genetic modification.”

Scientific innovation is also an alternative against price fluctuations and against the explosion in the cost of fertilizers and other inputs – between 25% and 30%, according to the Colombian Confederation of Potato Producers – affecting the profitability of commercial varieties.

“What we do (…) is help these plants get rid of diseases and pathogens so that when they go to the field they produce a good crop,” he says.

– On the table –

Potatoes have been grown in South America for over 8,000 years. In Colombia, the tuber is the second most consumed food after rice. According to official data, about 57 kilograms per person are consumed annually.

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The “original” potato is trying to enter haute cuisine, as is the case with chef Oscar González, who works with the tubers to prepare ice cream and bread, among other things, served in his two establishments in Bogota.

In the kitchen, Gonzalez assembles a dish based on three “local” varieties. On top of the pink potato cream, he places fried and purple slices, mixed with vegetables and spices.

“Each type has a different cooking, each type has a different flavor,” he explains.

According to Marques, there are about 60 native and 30 commercial varieties in Colombia, although only a few make it to the market.

For the researcher, all varieties are a “must have” in the “supermarket, as well as other marketing channels that are fairer to farmers”.

Meanwhile, scientists continue to strive to promote the species for small farmers.

“If there was science in this area, many things would improve,” Marquis points out.

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