Seed Potato Agronomy Project (Peru)

February 20, 2010

Agronomist Hector Martinez Trinidad wants to rehabilitate greenhouses like this one for the benefit of potato farmers in the Andes Mountains in Peru.

About 185 miles east of the urban bustle of Lima, the village of Huasahuasi, Peru, lies tucked amid the Andes Mountains at 10,000 feet above sea level. Given these geographical facts, you can imagine the local people’s hardscrabble lives.

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Still, God has blessed the area with fertile land where crops such as peas, broad beans, corn, onions, cabbage, lettuce, flowers and oats are grown. Huasahuasi’s claim to fame, however, is potatoes, which are planted and harvested on the mountainous slopes above this village of about 6,000 inhabitants. The area around Huasahuasi provides seed potatoes that farmers use to grow potatoes for consumers throughout Peru.

Columban Father Leo Donnelly is asking you to help him help poor farmers in the Peruvian Andes rejuvenate their potato seed laboratory and greenhouses. Here are the project’s most-pressing needs:

Greenhouse renovations: $12,460
Seed production: $16,220
Computer equipment: $940

Columban Father Leo Donnelly of Australia has spent most of his 51 years as a missionary in Peru, including much of the 1990s as a parish priest in Huasahuasi (pronounced “wasa-wasi”). During that time, he became friends with Hector Martinez Trinidad, a skilled agronomist who organized the village’s impressive seed potato project.

Hector organized small landholders to set up a potato seed laboratory on land donated by the Australian Josephite Sisters and was instrumental in building a nursery of four greenhouses. It was here where marble-sized potatoes were grown in peat moss beds then planted in the area’s arable land. Harvest after harvest, the plantings were expanded, and new strains of seed and consumer potatoes were assured for farmers and consumers throughout Peru.

Columban Father Leo Donnelly points toward newly tilted and planted fields high in the Andes Mountains of Peru.

Hector’s success was so appreciated by the people that he was elected mayor of the local governmental district. But Hector’s successor was not up to the task of managing the potato seed project, which sadly fell into disrepair.

“Overnight, the whole project became a sad sight,” Fr. Leo reported.

Recently, Fr. Leo  went to visit Huasahuasi. What a pleasant surprise he had when he visited his old friend Hector and learned he was back as director of the seed potato project, charged with resurrecting the laboratory.

Fr. Leo reported that Hector has an uphill battle steeper than the slopes upon which the potatoes are grown. The project is desperately strapped for cash and has no support from the Peruvian government, which had privatized agriculture in the 1990s.

Fr. Leo reports that the potato laboratory in Huasahuasi is functional but desperately needs new equipment. The greenhouses are still operational, but they need extensive renovations to restore the program’s successes.

By supporting the redevelopment of a potato seed program in Peru, you will help farmers like this man and his wife create better lives for themselves and their families.

“The possibilities are enormous,” stated Fr. Leo. “It will help the people get on their feet and help one another and, once re-established, the program is self-supporting. Potato farmers all over Peru are willing to buy the new strains that will be produced. I am quite sure the collapse of the project has taught everyone a huge lesson—no one wants that to happen again.”

Fr. Leo reports that Hector has laid out the following goals:
• In four months, project organizers want to reactivate the four greenhouses and increase production to 60,000 potato tubers to benefit 140 farming families.
• In eight months, they want to increase production to nearly 70 tons of seed to benefit 630 farming families.

With your help, we can help this potato seed project get on its feet and thrive, benefiting thousands of poor Andean families in Huasahuasi and beyond. Any amount you can give, large or small, will go toward helping these family farmers create better lives for themselves and their families.