Digging into the past and present of an international staple.
The potato is immensely important to the people of South America where thousands of varieties are grown. Traditionally the tubers were freeze dried but this is becoming more difficult due to climate change.
Peru is one of the largest potato-producing countries in the world. In the region of Kishuara, the Andean region, there has been a natural processing technique for storing potatoes since the time of the Incas. Local growers bring them above a certain altitude and let them dry in the ice-cold mountain air. Then they are immersed in running water and re-dried in open air. The result is white freeze-dried potatoes or tuntas, an important basic ingredient for the local population.
Due to climate change, the potato farmers in Kishuara were forced to move production from the plateaus in the Andes to a small tunta factory. But the final quality of the new tuntas was not equal to that of the traditional ones.
Three Belgian organisations, ILVO, HOGENT and TRIAS are helping a local Peruvian agricultural cooperative and university to optimize the semi-industrial production of their traditional tuntas – white freeze-dried potatoes (Chuño) that play an important role in the daily diet of the local population.
The problem is that the low night temperatures required have hardly been reached in recent years threatening the livelihood of many farmers.
The farmers have joined forces in a cooperative Coopagros and, with the help of TRIAS, have built a small tunta factory, equipped with semi-industrial equipment such as a freezer room, water basins and a drying site.
For two years, the partners will work together to fine-tune the production process at the factory while at the same time providing the students and professors of UNAJMA with the necessary knowledge so that they can then take on an advisory role for the local farmers. All of this should lead to a freeze-dried potato of top quality that can be produced year-round, even during the rainy season.