- Agnes Walton received a grant from the YIBS Small Grants Program for her field research on agricultural biodiversity conservation in Peru -
“My research focuses on how farmers use a diversity of potato varieties to respond and adapt to climate change. I wanted to explore the idea that one reason for conserving a wide range of food plant varieties in-situ is that this creates resilience and adaptability to climate change at a community level. So, I worked with a community that has access to a wide range of potato varieties and is also experiencing rapid climate change to see how, or if, they are using these varieties to adapt.”
Agnes’ research took her to the Potato Park, Parque de la Papa, high up in the Peruvian Andes. Partnering with the organisation ANDES (Asociacion para la naturaleza y el desarrollo sostenible), the goal of the research was to understand better the ways in which diverse potato cultivation supports the community’s adaptation to climate change. ANDES supports a community initiative and works with CIP, the International Potato Centre, to conserve upwards of 1400 native potato varieties in both shared community and private “chakras”, potato fields, in five participating villages.
“In terms of climate change, my research found that many farmers are struggling with changes in the start and end of the rainy season, which is coming later, making planting hard, but continuing for longer, making crops susceptible to rot around harvest time. They are also concerned about pest pressure, which is getting so bad in the lower-lying potato fields that potatoes have mostly been replaced with other crops. In the higher fields pest pressure is less of a problem but many varieties are unable to survive the unusually strong frosts that are appearing during the harvest season.”
Walton found a surprising array of complexities in the ways that farmers use biodiversity to solve these problems. The situation was complicated by the fact that two conservation organizations are working in the community to help preserve potato varieties.
“Some farmers were more geared towards the idea of conservation being their main task. Others had a more pragmatic relationship to diversity and had started to practice mixed-bag planting methods, where a range of different varieties would be sown in the same plots to guarantee that at least some would thrive, whatever the weather. However, this leaves the continued use and survival of the less fortunate varieties to chance. An important discussion for future research is really what this type of pragmatism will do to shape the germplasm that this community and others will have access to in a few years time,” said Walton.