The potato sector, largest employer in the Peruvian Andes

Aurélie Van Wonterghem
07 June 2018
We, Belgians, love potatoes. As a result, our country is a leading potato producer and exporter. Peru, the largest potato producer in Latin America, is another player that should not be underestimated. 

Potatoes have been grown in Peru for almost 7,000 years. In fact, the popular potato originates from Peru. The Spanish conquistadors introduced the tubers to Europe, after which they became a fixture in Belgian cuisine.

 

110,000 jobs

Worldwide, some 341 million tonnes of potatoes are produced each year, with China, India and Russia being the largest producers. Belgium and Peru yearly produce 4.6 and 4.5 million tonnes respectively. The potato is the third most important crop in the world, after rice and wheat.

Peru can definitely hold its own when it comes to potato production: potato fields cover 300,000 hectares of land in the former Inca country, almost four times as many as in Belgium (80,000 hectares). The largest part (96%) lies in the Andean Mountains, where various microclimates exist that make it possible to grow a wide range of potato varieties. Creating 110,000 jobs, potato cultivation is the largest employer for the Peruvian Andes population, which mainly works in agriculture.

Potatoes are also the principal source of food for more than 700,000 farming families in the Andean Mountains, mainly thanks to its high nutritional value, since the tubers are rich in vitamins C, B1, B3 and B6. They are also a source of carbohydrates with four times fewer calories than bread. On top of that, cooked potatoes contain more protein than maize and twice as much calcium.

Worldwide, some 341 million tonnes of potatoes are produced each year, with China, India and Russia being the largest producers. Belgium and Peru yearly produce 4.6 and 4.5 million tonnes respectively.

A large potato field
© Shutterstock

Puma paw

Potatoes are an essential part of Peruvian cuisine and form the backbone of many dishes. Think of “papa rellena”, fried mashed potatoes filled with beef and/or vegetables, or the famous “lomo saltado”, a meat dish that is traditionally combined with baked potatoes.

The cultivation of different varieties is passed on from generation to generation. Farmer families each grow their own selection of potato varieties, sometimes with dozens of varieties on the same field. An interesting fact: Peruvian Spanish has over 1000 words to name the potato and its varieties. The words often refer to what the varieties look like. For example, a grey, elongated potato is called “puma maki” or “puma paw”, and a reddish potato is called “puka k'usin” or “red pumpkin”.

Thematic file potatoes

Potatoes are an essential part of Peruvian cuisine and form the backbone of many dishes.

Fried mashed potatoes filled with beef and/or vegetables
© iStock

Did you know?

  • One hectare of potatoes yields two to four times more food value than one hectare of grain.
  • A cooked potato contains half of the daily requirement for vitamin C and a large dose of vitamins B, iron, potassium and zinc.
  • Freshly harvested, the potato contains 80 percent water and 20 percent dry matter of which almost one fifth is starchy.
  • In Peru, the cultivation of potatoes provides 110,000 jobs and 34 million daily wages.
  • The harvest per hectare in Belgium is more than three times higher (50 tonnes) than in Peru (14 tonnes).
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About the same theme - Article 6 /6 How do Peruvian potato farmers survive?