Belgian researchers & Peruvian farmers join forces around ‘tunta’ potatoes

ILVO, HOGENT and TRIAS in Belgium are hosting a Peruvian delegation to the Food Pilot in Belgium, in order to get to producing so-called “tuntas” (freeze-dried potatoes) in a small cooperative factory in the Andes.

Together with the Peruvians, Flemish food technologists perform experiments and analyses in Belgium. According to an article on the goal of the development cooperation project is to make the factory-produced tuntas as high-quality as the traditional product, and to make it possible to produce them year-round – even in the rainy season.

Climate change has made it difficult, if not impossible, to apply the traditional production method for tuntas, where the potatoes are first soaked then left to freeze-dry in the icy, dry, open air in the high alpine for weeks. Tuntas – pure white bitter potato tubers – form a central part of the daily diet of the Andean population. For Peruvian farmers, they are a major source of income.

Peru is one of the largest potato producers in the world. The Andean region of Kishuara has been home to a natural processing technique for storing potatoes for centuries. Local growers put them above a certain height limit and let them freeze-dry in the cold mountain air. Then they are immersed in running water and re-dried in open air. The result are white freeze dried potatoes or “tuntas”, an important basic ingredient for the local population.

Isabelle Lindemans (TRIAS): ‘During the rainy season it is not possible to produce tuntas in the open air. In addition, the low night temperatures that are essential for the traditional tunta-processing process have hardly been reached in recent years due to climate change. The result is large losses and uncertainty for hundreds of farming families.’

In Kishuara, the peasants joined forces in the cooperative called Coopagros. With the help of TRIAS they have built a small Tunta factory. This factory is equipped with semi-industrial equipment such as a freezing chamber, water basins and a drying place in which the traditional production process can be simulated.

But the final quality of these new tuntas is not as good as the traditional ones, and the production still stops during the rainy season. Thomas Ancco Vizcarra (agricultural researcher, UNAJMA University in Moquegua, Peru): ‘Making tuntas has always been a way to save the smaller potatoes that are not immediately sold on the fresh market for later consumption. This affects a large group: around 70% of potato production in Kishuara is too small for the fresh market and is sold at lower prices. Only a small part is upgraded to tuntas. If this share can rise through some viable technical solutions, this means a significant improvement in the quality of life of the farmers’ families. ‘

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