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Study shows climate change could devastate Peru's potato crop

A trio of climate scientists have shifted their forest research techniques to the rural farming regions of the Peruvian tropical Andes and the warming impact on two dietary staples of Latin America — potatoes and corn. 

Their findings, published last month in the journal Global Change Biology, are grim, portending a difficult path to rural agricultural adaptation and drastically reduced crop yields at a time of growing populations and food insecurity.

“For these crops, which are representative of other crops grown in the tropics, it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t outcome,” said Kenneth Feeley, a tropical biologist at the University of Miami and a study co-author. “If farmers ignore climate change and keep farming the same fields they always have, we find it’s going to be disastrous for these crops.”

The climate impact on potato farmers was worse than that of corn. They are already farming on mountain tops, so migrating higher is not an option. With the same temperature increases, the potato plants survived, but the tuber production was greatly deformed and reduced to the point of virtually no market value.

Peru’s international agricultural centre also studies potato production and is actively looking for solutions to protect crops from climate change. Feeley said he hopes experts there will reach out to remote, rural farmers with assistance.

“It’s always important to stress that climate change is having and going to have real impacts on lots of people through food,” Feeley said. “And what we found is that relatively small changes in temperature can have a huge effect on the livelihoods and health of millions of people.

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