By Giulia Maria Baldinelli
Although this fact may not be immediately obvious to most people outside the region, the Bolivian Altiplano is the origin and heart of much of the world’s agricultural biodiversity. While most Western consumers have at least seen one type of potato and some health-conscious eaters have come into contact with quinoa, most of us would have never heard of other foods such as oca, isaño, papalisa, cañahua, and tarwi. This is because these crops have traditionally been excluded by developed countries’ agricultural research and conservation activities for a number of reasons.
Firstly, past and present efforts have aimed at increasing yields and productivity of a narrow set of crops suited to high-input, high-output farming, focusing on grains like rice, wheat, and maize, which produce more than half of the global food energy needs. Indigenous crop varieties are simply less commercially viable and thus remain relatively invisible. They are rarely sold for money, but are instead consumed directly by poor, rural people that grow them in order to meet their own families’ nutrition needs. The likes of oca, tarwi, and papalisa are thus relatively unknown outside rural areas; the demand for them in urban and international markets is scarce, and commercialization is difficult. Read More »