From potatoes to quinoa, many of our favourite foods are at risk from threats like climate change and disease. The "seed guardians" of Potato Park in the Andes are hoping to change that.
The potatoes that grow in the Andes of South America are far more than a starchy staple of the local diet. They are a rich part of the culture.
"There's one really wonderfully beautiful potato, it looks almost like a rose. And the name of that one is 'the-one-that-makes-the-daughter-in-law-cry'," says Tammy Stenner, executive assistant at Asociación Andes, a non-profit organisation in Cusco, Peru, that works to protect biodiversity and indigenous rights in the region. "A potential mother-in-law would ask the young woman who wants to marry her son to peel this potato, but she has to peel it with care, so not wasting the flesh, not ruining the shape."
It is just one of more than 1,300 varieties of potato to be found growing in the mountains of the Andes, somewhere between 3,200m and 5,000m (10,500ft-16,500ft) above sea level. These are not the smooth-skinned russets or pale Maris Pipers that can be found on supermarket shelves in Europe and the US. Instead, they come in shades of purple, pink, red, and black, as well as white and yellow. Some have so many lumps and bumps that peeling them is enough to bring tears to the eyes.
Others require special methods of preparation. There are some that have to be freeze-dried (using one of two different methods for doing so), some that should only be cooked whole, and those that can be peeled and cut up for cooking. Individual varieties often have wonderfully descriptive names that describe their shape: one name translates to "puma’s paw", another to "llama’s nose". Then there are the potatoes named according to the role they play in the field, like the wild relatives of the cultivated potatoes known as the "grandfathers", or the role they play in local customs.
But now these beguiling vegetables have a new and vital role to play – helping to ensure potato crops can adapt to the challenges of climate change.