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Students blog post: Have you ever heard of the arracacha root?

Written by Anna McCallie -

Have you ever heard of the arracacha root? Before this conference, I hadn’t. And now? Now I’m a huge fan.

Arracacha is a root native to the Andes Mountains. It grows at high altitudes, is cheaper to produce than a potato, and packs a powerful nutrient punch. And, for the last several years, it’s been changing the lives of farmers in three communities in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador.

Led by Dr. Sonia Salas, the “Promotion of Andean crops: Markets and Agribusiness Development for Arracacha” project has been transforming the way these communities farm. The project was a truly international endeavor, funded by IDRC in Canada and executed by the International Potato Center in Peru, as well as a group of other institutions from Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, all members of the Mountain Partnership. The goal of the project was to decrease food loss and increase food security through building the capacity of local farmers.

Dr. Salas and her colleagues recognized the immense value of local knowledge. Farmers have been tilling Andean soil for millennia, and the wisdom they have unearthed is worth as much as the crops. But what this project has done is infuse some modern-day technology into the system: training the farmers in the use of seed beds and organic fertilizers, experimenting with cutting the root along the diagonal to prevent spoilage, and developing an innovative marketing plan to increase awareness of the root and its benefits. Farmers and project staff worked together to conserve crops, reduce post-harvest loss, and bring in a greater revenue stream to these small, rural farms—and they succeeded.

Among the achievements of the project were the collection of 32 different varieties of arracacha, the reduction of the vegetative period of the root from 12 to 9 months, and a doubling of production, from 9.8 to 20 tonnes per acre. Post-harvest losses were reduced from 15% to 8%, and 96% of farmers reported adoption of the new technologies, securing a continued bright future for their farms and families. The project also saw the unexpected founding of three new microbusinesses, one in each of the targeted communities. Local entrepreneurs capitalized on the success of the arracacha cultivation and are now producing arracacha chips, breads, and beyond.

The success of the Arracacha Project echoes one of the themes that has really stood out at the No More Food To Waste Conference: the way to reduce food loss and food waste is by fusing traditional knowledge with modern technologies. The project was successful because of the deep respect it held for the farmers, wanting to develop their capacity so that they could continue to be successful even after Dr. Salas and her colleagues had departed. Around the world, countless projects are working with the same goals. The question for those of us at the conference is this: how do we replicate this success on a broader scale? The technology exists and the people are willing. It is up to us to “remember the arracacha” as we move forward in our efforts to reduce food loss throughout the world.

(For more information on Dr. Salas and her project, please visit www.redar.com.)