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5 Successful Experiences of Potato Seed Production in the Andes

The yield of the potato crop in the Andean countries is low, and a major cause is the seed degeneration. To solve this problem, those countries created seed certification programs. But its implementation has not delivered the expected results. So, the current seed systems need important changes to improve both the competitiveness and income of small farmers. The following article describes five successful experiences in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Argentina.

Spanish version

Seed is a strategic input for agricultural production. And in particular for the potato crop.

The potato is propagated by tubers (asexual or vegetative reproduction) although it is also possible to do so through seed (sexual reproduction).

But tubers spread the pests and diseases faster than seeds.

According to the Compendium of Potato Diseases, the pests and diseases that can attack the potato are:

  • 36 fungus
  • 26 viruses and viroids
  • 5 bacteria
  • 6 nematodes

One of the major limitations of global potato production is the seed degeneration.

Seed degeneration is the reduction of yield or quality caused by an accumulation of pests and diseases, from one cycle to another.

Developed countries created certified seed programs to solve this problem (Formal Systems).

But in developing countries, those formal systems have not had the expected results.

Small farmers use as potato seed the tubers harvested on their farm. Or those obtained from neighbors or in local markets (Informal Systems).

And that material usually has pests and diseases, which accumulate from one cycle to another and that diminish yields.

During a presentation in Quito (Ecuador), Julio Kalazich (INIA-Chile) said about informal systems that:

  • represent more than 98% of seed production and use in most developing countries
  • are not supervised by any officially accepted quality control system
  • produce seed that usually has poor quality and does not meet the demands of the farmers

Thus, it is necessary to change this situation and propose seed systems that allow small producers to be competitive and improve their living conditions.

This article describes five successful experiences of potato seed production in the Andes.

First two experiences are about formal systems. Remaining ones are a combination of both formal systems and informal systems of seed production.

Certified seed in Ecuador

Smart greenhouse built by the MGAP (El Ciudadano)

Ecuadorian Government has invested resources in the social and economic development of the country.

And small-scale agriculture has an important place in that effort.

Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Aquaculture and Fisheries (MAGAP, by its acronym in Spanish) started a project in 2014 to allow to small farmers the access to quality seed.

Its primary goal is to increase the productivity of eight crops, including the potato crop.

That project to improve potato crop includes four elements:

  • Improve productivity
  • Market information system
  • Associative strengthening, and
  • Commercialization

First activity into the first element was creating new protocols to produce certified seed.

Old protocols were impractical and almost impossible to meet. The new ones adapt to the reality of potato production in Ecuador.

MAGAP used some rules from CONPAPA — See chapter “Integrating formal and informal potato seed systems in Ecuador”

The importance of the new regulation lies in that simplified the following procedures:

  • visual inspection of seed lots (public workers use now a damage index)
  • serological diagnosis (the number of tests decreased), and
  • the production of certified seed of native potato (through the use of seed of declared quality)

More information on declared quality seed: Quality declared planting materialand Quality declared seed system.

Construction of a greenhouse to produce basic category seed was the second activity.

This greenhouse is a structure of 22.000 m2 in which three production systems operate:

  • aeroponics (landless cultivation)
  • hydroponics (an industrial crop with aqueous solutions), and
  • production of mother plants

The greenhouse provides basic seed to the registered seed production program of the National Autonomous Institute of Agricultural Research (INIAP, by its acronym in Spanish).

That program delivers the seed to those producers registered as certified seed multipliers.

MAGAP purchases part of the seed and gives it to farmers that own up to one hectare of land.

For this purpose, MAGAP uses the so-called Subsidized Technology Packages.

Those packages include:

  • seed
  • fertilizers
  • agricultural supplies
  • technical help for free, and
  • agricultural insurance

Third activity of the first component was the publication of the Best Management Practices for Potatoes.

That document includes recommendations about cultivation, harvesting, postharvest, packing and transportation of potatoes. These tips apply both to potato fresh consumption and potato processing. The text also involves the safety of workers and the help to the environment.

The other components included the following activities::

  • improvement of transportation and salaries to officials involved in seed certification
  • daily emission of potato buying and selling prices by radio
  • control of potato smuggling from neighboring countries
  • stimulus to agrochemical companies to provide credit to small farmers
  • progressive registration of potato producers

Twelve months before finalizing the project, one thing is sure:

Ecuadorian farmers now have a greater willingness to buy quality seed.

Two factors have contributed to this.

The first one is the increase in urban markets. That makes the producers sell more potatoes, and ask for formal seed.

The second one is the rise of acquisition of land by owners with links to urban markets. Now, more farmers are willing to pay for seed produced outside the farm.

The biggest challenge of this project is to make efficient the chain of seed multiplication.

In this regard, Claudio Velasco (CIP, Quito) say:

“To make this chain efficient, the national potato seed supply system should involve the private sector and producer organizations. Not only during the production of certified seed but also in its promotion.

In this way, it is important that public sector supports both producers and the certified seed users in technical help and training.

Improve in productivity and income should be the benefits.”

Malargue, protected area to produce potato seed in Argentina

Cultivo de papa en Malargúe (Jaime Ortego)

Argentina has supplied itself with potato seed since 1985. Before that, the country imported potato seed from the Netherlands and Canada.

Become self-enough was achieved thanks to:

  • the introduction of the ELISA system for virus detection
  • “in vitro” multiplication of material free of diseases and pests, and
  • creation of differentiated areas for the production of basic category seed

The differentiated areas that are active today are:

San Cayetano-Tres Arroyos in Buenos Aires, Valles Andinos in San Juan, Tafí del Valle in Tucumán, Las Estancias in Catamarca, and Malargue in Mendoza.

Those areas produce 75% of the 200.000 tons of seed that Argentina needs to supply its domestic market.

The remaining seed comes from the informal system that operates in the province of Cordoba.

The quality of informal seed has the same control processes as the formal seed. So, it is good.

Malargue already produced quality potato seed forty years ago.

The epidemiological studies necessary to declare it as differentiated area started at 1978, but the formal resolution came in 1982.

The Andean valleys produce the potato seed in Malargue.

Some characteristics of those valleys are:

  • heights of 1,400 m.s.n.m.
  • short periods free of frost
  • low environmental humidity
  • large daily and annual thermal amplitudes

The climate is like the rest of the Argentine Patagonia, of which Malargue forms a part. Rainfall does not exceed 200 mm per year. And the irrigation comes from the thawing of both snow and glaciers.

Following comparative advantages maintain the differentiated area status:

  • roads that ease the inspection of plant materials
  • environmental conditions that prevent the spread of pests and diseases (very low temperatures, dry winds, and adjacent deserts)
  • a low agricultural activity that decreases the entry of pathogens
  • trained and organized producers
  • the institutional participatory presence
  • producers and technicians conscious that follow the current legislation

The National Seed Institute (INASE, by its acronym in Spanish) has the function of check seed production and its trade in the country.

In some provinces, INASE executes this function through agreements with local government agencies.

The Institute of Health and Agricultural Quality (ISCAMEN, by its acronym in Spanish) does this role in Mendoza.

The seed control process follows these steps.

The technical director of seed producer inscribes the lot in the ISCAMEN, in preliminary form.

Next, ISCAMEN officials verify in the field that the lot has been free of potatoes for at least two years.

Once the lot is planting, the technical director inscribes it, definitely.

To do that, he must send the surface, location, and origin of the seed (category, variety, etc.).

After harvesting, ISCAMEN take samples tubers to detect viruses and nematodes

Malargue is free zone of Nacobbus aberrans

Usually is the laboratory of INTRA Rama Caida (Mendoza) that analyzes the samples.

ISCAMEN assign the corresponding category (see regulation Res. 217/02) if the seed has the proper amounts of virus and nematodes (tolerance).

Producers sell the rejected potato as a potato for consumption.

Most parts of those rejections are due to nematodes (Meloidogyne). Rejections by viruses are few because producers multiply the seed only up to three times. Thus, the infection is moderate.

Production in Malargue seems to have stabilized at about 1,000 hectares per year.

Potato producers almost not use systemic insecticides. And they do not apply mineral oil to reduce the number of aphids.

Local government has prohibited the entry of seed from other regions (except In the form of mini tubers).

The producers plant foreign varieties (Spunta and Kennebec) and national varieties (Frital INTA, Pampeana INTA, and Keluné INTA).

Cordoba, Santa Fe, Buenos Aires and northern Mendoza, buy the seed produced in Malargue.

Efforts of institutions and farmers are fundamental to maintain the phytosanitary condition of Malargue.

Fortunately, both institutions and producers continue contributing their active seed consciousness..

The author thanks to Jaime Ortego (*) for send him information and to review this chapter.

(*) Researcher of INTA EEA Mendoza, former head of the Extension Agency of INTA de Malargue and former president of ISCAMEN.

The common seed in Chile

SAG official taking samples from a potato crop

For phytosanitary reasons, potato seed in Chile occurs only in the Potato Quarantine Free Zone.

This area extends from the province of Arauco in the region of Bío Bío to the region of Magallanes and the Chilean Antarctic.

To have a temperate and cold climate and organic soils is a privileged area to produce potatoes. In fact, from there they have left the main varieties and certified seed for the rest of the country.

Thanks to plans for permanent surveillance, next quarantine pests are absent or under official control: Globodera rost Chinensis (Golden nematode), Globodera pallidum (Pale nematode), Thecaphora solani (Potato charcoal) and Ralstonia solanacearum (Bacterial wilt)

Because a crisis of seed certified in the late 1970s, Chilean government had to issue emergency measures to supply the seed market.

As a result, today there are two types of legal seed: certified and common.

The common seed is a seed that often comes from the certified seed system.

People usually said that common seed ‘escapes’ the certification scheme.

This situation happens because many producers register its seed as certified seed. But at the end, they inscribe it and selling it as common seed.

The Agricultural and Livestock Service (SAG, its acronym in Spanish) is the official organization that regulates the common seed.

SAG inscribe and check the establishment of common seed in the Potato Quarantine Free Zone.

And regulate its marketing.

To be marketed, a common seed should have, at least, 95% varietal purity and 15% total virus. There are tolerances for bacterial or fungal diseases, too.

But it is the farmer who guarantees the seed quality. If what he said does not match the text of the bag label, the user can complain to the SAG or even demand the producer to the justice.

In the first case, SAG verifies the situation on the ground (or in the cellar, if it is before sowing). And if the user is right, the producer can receive sanctions.

Common seed is cheaper than certified seed, but it may have lower performance because can be infected by pests and diseases that have exceeded the certified seed standards.

Julio Kalazich (INIA Chile) said in his presentation at the Regional Meeting on Non-Conventional Seed Systems (Quito, 2012) that:

“the common seed has been successful in Chile because its tolerance to pests and diseases is more according to the local reality. Besides, it is a better business than certified seed. “

“(…) common seed can yield up to 30% more than certified seed because the seed selection process is less strict about size, deformations, and even diseases”.

And he shared the following data:

[The current seed] generates approximately 78% of the volume of legal seed produced. And together with certified seed, it supplies 75% of seed demand, assuming a 30% annual renewal rate.”

But, Luis Salazar, a world expert in virology, stated in a recent interview that the common seed should not exist in Chile.

For him “[the common seed] is consumption, it is the last of C3, and C3 according to the law has a tolerance percentage to virus too high (9%). That means the next crop can have up to 80% of infection in the field.”

The technicians consulted to write this article (*) agree that the common seed played a significant role in ensuring the supply of seed in Chile.

“But its cycle is over. And today we must give way to 100% of certified seed.”

(*) Ivette Acuña B., INIARemehue, Ing. Agrónomo, Ph.D., Fitopatóloga, Jaime H. Rios, Jefe Comercial, Consorcio Papa Chile, Álvaro García Fernández, Gerente, Agrícola El Parque y Armando Águila C., Estación Experimental

Aeroponics seed and native potato in Peru

Association of potato growers of Yerba Buena Chica will administer aeroponic greenhouse (ADERS)

Cajamarca is one of the two potato producing areas in the highlands of the north of the country.

The farmers produce improved and native varieties, these latter appreciated by local consumers. But its trade is minimal because they have not money nor contacts to reach the coast users.

An NGO is changing the situation.

The Association for the Sustainable Development of Peru (ADERS, by its acronym in Spanish) has succeeded in getting farmers to produce quality potatoes and sell them to large supermarkets.

It all started five years ago in Conga, an area where open pit mines extract gold.

Potato is the most important crop in the Cajamarca Region. But its yield is low: 5 ton/ha for native potatoes and 10 ton/ha for improved potatoes.

Farmers use as seed the tubers harvested on their farms. Or those obtained from neighbors or in local markets. And this material usually has pests and diseases, which accumulate from one cycle to another.

To turn this condition, ADERS developed a project financed by Yanacocha Mining Corporation. This company extracts gold from the area.

Mining companies often develop projects in the areas involved (Corporate Social Responsibility). And they do it through NGOs that know the region, have the know-how and can handle resources.

The first thing ADERS did was to establish a strategic alliance with:

  • International Potato Center (CIP, by its acronym in Spanish)
  • National Institute of Agrarian Innovation (INIA, by its acronym in Spanish)
  • National Agrarian Health Service (SENASA, by its acronym in Spanish), and
  • FAO project related to native potatoes

The next step was to strengthen producers in crop technology, organization, and marketing.

ADERS put into practice methodologies like Participatory Market Chain Approach (PMCA) and Farmer Field Schools (ECA).

Thanks to these technologies were trained 200 farmers in topics such as:

  • best practices management of potatoes
  • supply chain
  • native potato production
  • postharvest
  • selection and sorting of seed
  • storage
  • quality standards to improve marketing management, and
  • sales plan to serve the market

An intermediate step was to improve the health of the seed.

For that, ADERS built a greenhouse to produce mini tubers by aeroponics from tissue cultures supplied by the CIP.

Producers multiply this material and get quality seed. By this, INIA register them as authorized seed multipliers.

Using this seed and applying chemical fertilizers, crop yields increased from 5 ton/ha to 15 ton/ha.

Such as CONPAPA, another experience of this article, this one mix both the formal and informal seed systems.

Formal system because ADERS receives certified material from CIP

And informal system because ADERS produces seed under its quality standards

The last step inthe process was to ensure the marketing of potatoes.

To this end, ADERS created a corporation to realize business with supermarkets. Thus the associated producers undertake to deliver the agreed quantities of potatoes.

The project as a whole stimulated the Government to propose a new regulation to seed production. Specifically, a law that would include informal seed systems. Its goal is to help to conserve the biodiversity of both native and improved varieties.

The new regulation wants to incorporate two categories: declared seed and traditional seed. This latter benefits to producers of native potatoes.

Farmers in the project know that crop yields tripled if they use healthy seed. They know that by applying chemical fertilizers, they get quality potatoes. But once finished the project, farmers do not know if they will buy or not certified seed.

That is a significant doubt!

For now, the price of potatoes for each arroba (115 kg) has gone from US$1.67 to US6.00 in five years. And the profitability of crops increased by 350% in the same period.

This is an adaptation of the chapter Aeroponics seed and native potatoes in Peru of the document Case Studies of Root, Tuber and Banana Seed Systems.

Integrating formal and informal potato seed systems in Ecuador

Tungurahua promotes seed production (El Heraldo)
Tungurahua promotes seed production (El Heraldo)

The potato has always been the first food in the Ecuadorian Andes. There the growers developed thousands of varieties of native potatoes. But improved varieties replaced them and lost importance in urban markets.

With a more problem: Small farmers neither can sell potato from improved varieties. Why? Because they have difficulty to produce quality potatoes.

Part of the problem is the seed that they use. This seed is harvested on their farm or those obtained from neighbors or in local markets.

But this seed usually has pests and diseases, which decreases the yield of crops.

One solution is the use of certified seed. But only 2% of the small farmers use it.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), CIP and INIAP joined efforts to improve this situation.

To do that, they connected small farmers to restaurants, supermarkets, and processors that wanted to pay for quality potatoes.

They used two methodologies:

Coordination platforms and shared projects, in the organizational aspect, and
Participatory Market Chain Approach (PMCA), to develop agribusiness.

From this effort was born the Consortium of Small Potato Producers (CONPAPA).

But one fact was evident from the beginning: the formal system was not going to be able to meet its seed demands.

Then CONPAPA began to produce its own seed.

The process is as follow:

CONPAPA buys registered seed of Fripapa and Superchola varieties to INIAP (but produce native potato varieties, too).

After getting the seed, the next step is to increase it.

Producers graduated from a Farmer Field School (ECA, by its acronym in Spanish) are the responsible for doing so.

(in 2014 there were 28 men and three women doing that)

Those farmers control the quality of their product. To do that, they:

  • visit the lots before planting
  • inspect them during the flowering time, and
  • examine the harvested tubers

Each kg of seed purchased from INIAP produces 18 kgs of common seed (or seed of declared quality). It is a seed of good quality and cheaper than certified seed.

CONPAPA buys this seed and stores it in warehouses. When this is in optimal conditions for planting, they sell it or facilitates it to its partners.

Farmers of CONPAPA get the most of this seed to produce the potato requested by the customers.

NGOs, government programs or individual producers buy the remaining seed.

CONPAPA re-use the seed according to INIAP recommendations: four times for Fripapa and six to seven for Superchola.

CONPAPA has improved the income of small potato producers in the province of Tungurahua.

Thanks to the seed produced by CONPAPA, they can now offer quality potatoes in high-value markets, where is well paid.

Between 2005 and 2010, CONPAPA helped sell more than 4,000 tons of potatoes, worth US$1,340,408 and profits of US$150,545.

CONPAPA has contributed to the rapid diffusion of new varieties of potatoes in the country.

One of the success factors is the creation of an internal quality control protocol within the seed production system. That protocol build a sense of commitment among producers.

CONPAPA and INIAP developed this protocol. And because its importance, the new Ecuadorian law of seeds included part of it.

The other factor is to have been able to mix, in one, the formal and informal seed systems.

Because, on the one hand, CONPAPA produces improved varieties using two attributes of the formal systems: high-quality seeds and quality control protocols.

And on the other, it allows producers to sow their own seed, a classic component in informal systems.

The author thanks to Luis Montesdeoca, CONPAPA Tungurahua, for responding to his questions and review this chapter.

This is an adaptation of the chapter Integrating formal and informal potato seed systems in Ecuador of the document Case Studies of Root, Tuber and Banana Seed Systems.

My opinion

It is curious to see how in Chile they want to end the declared quality category while in Ecuador and Peru they try to include it.

Of course, Chileans have been handling this type of seed for more than 40 years while Ecuadorians and Peruvians (let is say that) have started the process.

The seed of declared quality is a system that does not want to compete with other systems. Or duplicate the work of other organizations.

It is an option for those governments that do not have enough money to develop a complete quality control system.

(as would be the case for a formal seed certification system)

But one of the challenges is to make these systems flexible in their execution. And at the same time respect the basic principles of quality.

The label attached to the seed bag represents the quality of its contents and the entire process carried out to achieve it. And an inadequate supervision can cause the loss of the label’ reputation forever.

If that happens, the essence of the system ceases to exist.

In other words, do not offer a basic input if the system is not well executed.

From that point of view, the Chilean experience would be replicable in other countries, correcting the mistakes made (if there are).

Do you know any experience of seed production in the Andes that you want to share? Please use the comments section at the end of this note.


About the Author

Jorge Luis Alonso G. is a content writer for the agricultural sector. For 17 years he has been managing Redepapa, a blog specializing in the cultivation of potatoes. He is based in Argentina.

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