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Peruvian farmers get help from Belgium to save traditional potato product from climate change

Chuño is a traditional freeze-dried potato product prepared in Peru. Chuño is available in two colours, black (dark) and white.
White Chuño (right) is also called Tunta

Febrero 26, 2019
Three Belgian organisations, ILVO, HOGENT and TRIAS help 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.

Due to climate change, the potato farmers in Kishuara (Peru) are forced to move production from the plateaus in the Andes to a small tunta factory. But the final quality of these new tuntas is not equal to that of the traditional ones.

ILVO and HOGENT offer their expertise during the 2-year North-South VLIRUOS project OPTITUNTA to solve the bottlenecks in the production process. The NGO TRIAS is facilitating the process.

The traditional freeze-drying of the tubers in the Andean high mountains 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 (Andean region), for example, 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.

Joylene Dumarey (TRIAS):

“This is a way of valorizing the smaller potatoes that are not sold on the fresh market.”
But due to climate change, the low night temperatures that are essential for the tunta processing process have hardly been reached in recent years, which leads to big losses and threatens the livelihood of hundreds of farming families.

In Kishuara, 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.

Goal of OPTITUNTA: to set up a semi-industrial production process and share expertise

TRIAS has been accompanying the local farmers' cooperative with its 260 members for some time. In a previous project (Coalición Chuño - realized with support from, among others, the Belgian Province of West Flanders) aid was given to the construction of the factory and the installations. Now the collaboration revolves around optimization of the potato processing process. Nathalie Bernaert (ILVO):

“The end quality of the tuntas from the factory can be improved. Freezing, immersion and drying must be further studied and optimized.”
ILVO, HOGENT and TRIAS are therefore starting up the VLIRUOS project ‘OPTITUNTA’ together with the local university UNAJMA and cooperative Coopagros. VLIRUOS is a funding program for cooperation between Flemish knowledge institutions and projects in the South with the aim of formulating innovative solutions for global and local challenges.

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.

Kick-off in Peru

In the end this should give the tunta farmers a stronger market position. To ensure this last point too, during the kick-off of the project in January, the CIP (International Potato Center) was approached. That organization has a lot of knowledge of the traditional tunta process and the necessary quality parameters, but also conducted a market study a few years ago to the tunta. CIP is prepared to share this knowledge and to support the OPTITUNTA project in this way.

Marianne De Meerleer (HOGENT):

“By traveling to Peru for the kick-off, we as Belgian researchers were better able to study the production process in the tunta factory and identify the biggest bottlenecks.”
Furthermore, the partners have drawn up a concrete action plan and the necessary agreements, so that everyone is on board for the next 2 years.