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Peru Prepares to Host World Potato Congress

Major industry players from around the globe will descend on the birthplace of the potato in May.

More than 800 delegates are expected to attend the 10th World Potato Congress (WPC) May 27 to 31 in Cusco, the historic city in southwestern Peru that was once capital of the Inca Empire.

The event, which will showcase the origins of the potato in the South America’s Andean region, is being held in Latin America for the first time.

“I think it will be such a unique and different experience for those who come from Europe, North America and Asia,” says Peter VanderZaag, a WPC director and one of the key organizers of WPC 2018. “They’ll have such an incredible appreciation for the Peruvian people… who really domesticated the potato originally and have used it so successfully for all these millennia.”

Fellow Canadian David Thompson, who was president and CEO of the WPC before passing the torch to Romain Cools of Belgium at the beginning of the year, says delegates will get a good sense of how important potatoes are to Peru.

“There are more than 700,000 potato farmers in Peru. It’s an industry in Canada, but in Peru it’s a living,” he says, adding congress participants will be immersed in the lush heritage of potato cultivation in the Andes Mountains. The region is home to more than 4,000 varieties of native potatoes, some of which have been around since the time of the Incas.

“I feel it’s important for people to see what’s going on in this part of the world,” Thompson says.

The WPC is a triannual congress that attracts growers, researchers, producers, traders, processors and manufacturers who share information, innovations and ideas for the global development and growth of the potato industry.

“The World Potato Congress really tries look at the whole value chain, from the research side all the way down to its applications and business side of it as well,” VanderZaag explains. “I think that’s what makes the congress unique.”

Potato representatives in the host countries have always played a pivotal role in setting the tone and helping arrange congress events, and WPC 2018 is no exception.

The local organizers for this year’s congress — Peru’s National Institute for Agriculture Innovation (INIA) and the International Potato Center (CIP), the renowned research and international development organization based in Lima, Peru — picked these three themes for WPC 2018: biodiversity, food security and business.

“I think the themes which have been set up by the Peruvian organizing committee are really international,” notes Cools, who was WPC vice-president before assuming the position of president and CEO on Jan. 1.

CIP’s chief of staff, Amalia Perochena, is among the organizers. Perochena says delegates attending WPC 2018 will benefit from a stimulating scientific program as well as ample commercial and networking opportunities. Aside from all that, she says, it’s going to be a great cultural experience.

“We want them to have what we call the full potato experience in the Andes,” Perochena says. “They’ll see how important potatoes are for Peru and in the Andes and in Latin America. They will get a feel of where potatoes come from, and how embedded potatoes are in our culture and in our future.”

Perochena says WPC 2018 will showcase the tremendous biodiversity of Peruvian potatoes, and their potential to further biomedical and genetic research.

“The genetic diversity of the potato in Peru is such an incredible heritage that should be shared with the world,” VanderZaag adds. “There’ll be some special focus sessions [at WPC 2018] on the genetic resources of Peruvian potatoes: what they have available, and what they could be used for.”

The importance of the potato to the region’s food security will also be front-and-centre at the congress. As such, the congress will also be a follow-up from the UN International Year of the Potato in 2008. Cools referred to this event 10 years ago as an eye-opener for the world, of the potential of the potato to feed the world and to play a role in the strategy against poverty and hunger. He adds that Peru played a crucial role in convincing the United Nations headquarters to make the choice to dedicate 2008 to the potato.

“In Latin America, the potato is a key crop in terms of food security and nutrition security, so I think it is very important to showcase how important this is here, and how we are using varietal development and biotechnology and other pest and disease management strategies to guarantee that we produce the right type of potatoes and the right amount of potatoes,” Perochena adds.

WPC organizers are also banking on the congress to stimulate new trade and business opportunities between potato industry stakeholders in developed and developing nations.

Cools notes the WPC 2018 program will include some examples of how modern private/public partnerships between local authorities and companies from the Northern Hemisphere can be set up to help communities in Latin America utilize potatoes to further their development. “I believe there is a huge opportunity in Peru to achieve this,” he says.

Keynote speakers at WPC 2018 include:

  • Barbara Wells, CIP director general: The Role of the Potato in Feeding the Future.
  • David Nowell of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations: Global Food and Agricultural Issues Trends.
  • Maximo Torero of the World Bank: Potato Technology and Economic World Trends.
  • Miguel Ordinola and Andre Devaux of CIP: The Role of Potato Diversity in Peru on Food Security, Nutrition and Competitivity.
  • Marco Bindi of the University of Florence: Global Effects of Climate Change in the Potato Crop.
  • Glen Bryan of The James Hutton Institute: The Future of Modern Biotechnology in Varietal Development.

A wide range of technical sessions will also be offered at the congress. Topics include:

  • Trends in Potato Consumption and Market.
  • Potato Variety Development and Biotechnology.
  • Potato Crop Management.
  • Potato Post harvest and Processing Technology.
  • Potato Pest and Diseases.
  • The Late Blight Global Challenge.
  • In Situ Conservation Challenges.
  • Value Chain for Small Farmers.
  • Culinary Innovations.

WPC 2018 will coincide with National Potato Day in Peru, which is May 30. VanderZaag believes this will make things even more memorable for congress participants.

“The president of Peru will be in Cusco that day and we’ll have all these festivities and traditional activities and dances all around the folklore of the potato. This will be a fantastic part of the WPC event,” he says.

WPC delegates are being offered two field day options for the last day of the congress. One is a visit to CIP’s Potato Park, a biological preserve for Andean potatoes that’s operated by local farmers. “This is an extraordinary in situ collection of native potato varieties that are maintained by farmers in community,” says VanderZaag. “The biology and the social attributes of each of these native varieties is preserved in this unique way by the people, and is something special to witness as we look to the future of food security on our planet.”

The other destination is an agricultural experimental station run by INIA that features traditional potato terraces.

Delegates can also take advantage of a number of pre- or post-congress tours that enable visitors to experience the rich history and culture of the area.

In addition to a half-day tour of Cusco and nearby ruins of Incan ceremonial centres, there are full-day tours available that delegates can choose from, one to the renowned Sacred Valley of the Incas and the other to Machu Picchu, the famous Incan citadel set high in the Andes that is an UNESCO World Heritage site.

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