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Peruvian spuds entombed in Arctic 'doomsday vault'

Frozen chips off the old tuber

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More than 1,000 Peruvian potato varieties are destined for entombment in the Arctic's Svalbard Global Seed Vault amid fears they may be threatened in their traditional home.

The BBC explains that the Cusco Potato Park will provide 1,500 distinct tuber examples for storage in the "doomsday vault", whose purpose is to "store duplicates (‘back-ups’) of all seed samples from the world’s crop collections".

Puma Maki potato. Pic: Asociacion ANDESThe Potato Park is an initiative by six indigenous communities which "celebrates the tremendous diversity of native potato varieties and other native Andean crops characteristic of Andean food systems". Among the tremendous tubers it grows is the impressive Puma Maki ("Puma's Foot") variety, pictured.

While the 10,000 hectare park plays a vital role in maintaining potato diversity, its long-term viability is not assured. Lino Mamani, one of the "potato guardians", explained: "Climate change will mean that traditional methods of maintaining this collection can no longer provide absolute guarantees.

"Sending seeds to the [vault] will help us to provide a valuable back-up collection – the vault was built for the global community and we are going to use it."

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is described as "ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply". Operated by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, it was built to protect its contents from any natural or man-man disaster, and currently holds 500,000 samples, including maize, rice, wheat, lettuce and barley.

The entrance to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Pic: Mari Tefre/Global Crop Diversity Trust

The latest batch of crops to pass through the entrance (pictured, above) include "chilli peppers, melons, peanuts, beans, sesame, hibiscus, squash, gourd, and 448 different varieties of sorghum".

When the Peruvian spuds join them, the vault will be home to over a third of the Andes' 4,000 native potato varieties.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust executive director, Cary Fowler, said: "The Potato Park highlights the active role that individual communities play in creating and conserving diversity. This partnership demonstrates the critical importance of the seed vault in backing up conservation efforts of all kinds."

There's a press release with more details on the potato plan here (PDF), and you can find the Global Crop Diversity Trust's snaps on Flickr right here. ®

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