Cultivated in the Bolivian Andes for thousands of years, the potato is today the country's most important food crop, along with soybeans. It is grown across some 135 000 hectares of land by an estimated 200 000 farmers, the vast majority of them smallholders who produce mainly for household consumption.
Most farmers rely heavily on traditional varieties that are well adapted to Bolivia's "high climatic risk" (on the altoplano, especially, the potato crop is exposed frequently to hail, frost and drought). One such native variety is the hardy "bitter potato", which is cultivated at altitudes as high as 4 300 m and processed into a dried product, chuño, that can be stored for up to 10 years.
Over the past decade, Bolivia's potato production has expanded steadily, thanks mainly to higher yields, and stood at 755 000 tonnes in 2007. However, recent growth in imports of wheat and rice products is creating strong competition for potato farmers, especially in urban markets. (Source: International Year of the Potato)