The delicate balance between producers, consumers and the environment
Productivity can be increased sustainably through the use of adapted farming techniques. Potatoes need to be constantly protected from disease. This can be achieved through the use of quality potato seed along with integrated disease and pest management to ensure a sustainable environment. For this reason, the SDC contributes to expanding the capacities of small peasant farms, such as in Peru and Bolivia, with the backing of the CIP.
The SDC promotes potato farming in developing countries as part of its agricultural aid in general and research aid in particular. Potato farming promotes the sustainable use of natural resources (water, soil) and is part of the larger framework of ensuring food security and supplementing income.
Shared knowledge and experience in potato production systems acquired in ecologically similar regions in Switzerland and partner countries formed the basis for the close collaboration that began between the SDC and Nepal. The SDC has supported potato programmes for more than 30 years in the Andes (Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador), Central America, Africa, and Asia (Pakistan, Bhutan, North Korea, and Mongolia). In 2007 this investment totalled around 6 million Swiss francs.
Recurring disease and stubborn pests
Very few food plants can tolerate frost, drought and intense exposure to sunlight. The potato is one of them. So it is no coincidence that potatoes were so successful in the high Andean plateaus where they originated. Nonetheless they must still be protected from the diseases to which they are susceptible, such as late blight (caused by mildew that destroys the leaves, stems, and tubers), blackleg (a bacterial infection that rots the roots in the soil and during storage), and pests such as the Colorado beetle (which is very resistant to insecticides), the potato tuber moth and the potato leafminer fly.
Small-scale farmers need to have access to high-quality, healthy potato seed that is affordable (up to 50 percent of production costs can go to buying potato seed), as well as adequate storehouses. Proper use of irrigation and fertiliser ensures a good output that in turn protects farmers from drastic price fluctuations.
Health and environmental risks
Intensive potato farming has often entailed the intensive use of pesticides that can seriously harm human health and the environment, for example by wiping out pests' natural predators or contaminating water supplies. In order to increase potato production while protecting producers, consumers and the environment, a global approach is needed. This involves selecting disease- and pest-resistant varieties; using high-quality, healthy potato seed; improving cultivation techniques; using crop rotation; and applying integrated pest management that reduces excessive reliance on chemical products.
Integrated pest management consists of containing pest populations within manageable levels and also keeping chemical intervention at economically justifiable levels – all without endangering either human health or the environment. The SDC supports this approach through its long-time partner the International Potato Center (CIP).
Fly traps in Peru
In In Peru, the CIP came up with a number of ways to help small-scale farmers protect their crops from the leafminer fly in the Cañete valley. The fly’s natural enemies had been wiped out by the massive use of insecticides, seriously upsetting the balance of the ecosystem. Under the CIP’s programme, traps were set up to attract and kill adult flies, and a certain kind of wasp that attacks pests was reintroduced. Reliance on pesticides was significantly reduced, and this saved farmers money and restored the environmental balance.
In Bolivia, Proinpa (Promoción e Investigación en Productos Andinos) is dedicated to developing strategies to fight potato diseases. These strategies are affordable for small farmers and environmentally friendly. Proinpa also produces biological insecticides. Proinpa was founded in 1989 and became a foundation in 1998. It is supported by both the SDC and the CIP. The Bolivian government has entrusted Proinpa with responsibility for supervising the national germplasm banks of Andean roots and tubers.