KIWA, Revalorizing Native Potatoes in Ecuador
Martin Acosta, Inalproces, Ecuador (email@example.com)
In Ecuador, national production of potatoes in 2021 was 250,000 tons, with a harvested area of 19,088 hectares (ha) and an average yield of 13.0 t/ha. The potato is an important part of the production systems of the Ecuadorian highlands, it constitutes an important source of food and income for family producers. Approximately 88,130 producers are dedicated to growing potatoes, it is estimated that 250,000 people are directly and indirectly linked to the crop. It is a source of employment estimated at 3.5 million wages/year. The crop is mainly cultivated (76%) by small-scale farmers in areas smaller than 5 ha.
Native potatoes are an ancestral product cultivated and maintained by Ecuadorian Andean communities located at altitudes above 3000 meters in the highlands. Used as food or barter, native potatoes contribute to the food security of the inhabitants of these communities.
The story of how native Andean potatoes in Ecuador were revalorized is a good example of how the public and private sector can collaborate and reach innovative results. With no secured market and nobody ready to invest, there was no way that thousands’ year-old naturally colored potatoes could be rescued and taken to the market despite their extremely high nutrient density and cultural value. Then, in 2010, a combined effort between INIAP, the National Agriculture Research Institute, and the International Potato Center (CIP) set the basis to promote their use and consumption.
Partnership to enhance native potatoes added value.
Under the overall coordination and guidance of the International Potato Center (CIP), the private company INALPROCES, the national agriculture research institute (INIAP), and the farmer organization CONPAPA (AGROPAPA today) collaborated to develop market opportunities based on the country’s wealth of native potato varieties. In August 2010, a contract was signed between Inalproces; a private sector company wanting to innovate in the snacks industry, INIAP; a public agriculture research institute, in charge of developing (in this case, rescuing) raw materials, based on potato biodiversity, that could strengthen Ecuador’s national food security system, and Agropapa, an association of 400 small-scale farmers from the Ecuadorian highlands.
Together, they began identifying native potatoes adequate for processing that could be produced and supplied by CONPAPA (AGROPAPA) to Inalproces. Two colorful varieties with good processing characteristics were identified by INIAP and selected for producing high quality naturally colored potato chips: INIAP-Puca Shungo (Red Heart) and INIAP-Yana Shungo (Black Heart). The main characteristic of these chips was an intense reddish or purple coloration in their flesh, indicating the richness of antioxidants that differentiates them from better known improved potato varieties. This commercial innovation also catalyzed a range of technological innovations, including the production of high-quality seed and training services for farmers. Yields obtained by farmers working with Inalproces were around 13 t/ha. In the processing facilities, potatoes are sliced and fried in batches with a processing capacity of around 14 t of fresh potatoes per day.
How the marketing started
A first package of 50 grams was launched under the Kiwa brand both in the Ecuadorian and foreign markets. Kiwa means “green” in Quechua, the native language of the Andes. The brand name describes our ongoing efforts to work according to social and environmental guidelines that ensure a healthy relationship with our partners and nature.
By late 2011, after being awarded $37,500 grant from GIZ, at the Anuga show in Germany, Kiwa’s Native Andean potatoes were selected as one of the Top Innovations in the world, sky-rocketing sales and opening different markets world-wide. On the supply side, an initial agreement with Agropapa included 100 sacks of 45kg per month, and that was later doubled. And from the 6 initial locations harvesting the potatoes, Inalproces had to increase production to 25 locations because of harsh climate conditions (frost and drought) and look for other farmer’s associations.
|Papa Puca (tons)
|Papa Yana (tons)
Table 1. Quantity of potatoes supplied to Inalproces in recent years.
The business started small promoting the KIWA chips with storytelling, transmitting the stories of the farmers collaborating to the initiative, the differences between regular potatoes and native potatoes and the benefits of these unique potatoes (for example, with high levels of antioxidants). Progressively, this has been making an impact on customers in several countries who were attracted by the colorful potatoes, different from what they normally found in the market. These potatoes are now sold both under the Kiwa brand and private labels in major retailers world-wide such as Costco in USA. Farmers get paid a fixed price all year long which is around 33% higher than the price of commercial potatoes. This has not changed since 2011, allowing them to move away from price instability being subject to intermediaries’ price control which is sometimes unfair.
As the national market is relatively limited, Inalproces has concentrated its effort on the export market which represents 80% of the Kiwa native potato chips sales. The principal export markets are USA, Paraguay and Saudi Arabia. In 2020, the highest supply of native potatoes to Inalproces was achieved with around 18 tons per month. Since 2023, the native potato chips produced by Inalproces were included in the SuperFoods Cluster supported by the Ecuador Ministry of Production which could contribute to enhance the export of the product.
The initial collaboration with AGROPAPA, which produced seed and supplied the native potatoes to the company, contributed to develop and strengthen the native potato high value market. It allowed Inalproces to supply its products in the export markets. But in 2018, because of coordination issues, Inalproces developed partnerships with larger producers while AGROPAPA was developing its own processing facilities to supply colored potato chips in the local market.
Native potato production managed by small-scale farmers still faces constraints to respond to the market development and is losing new opportunities. Productivity and processing quality can be affected by harsh growing conditions and pests and diseases. The seasonality of potato production is a constraint that creates supply gaps and limits consistent supply. Better technical support to improve crop management is also required to enhance productivity and product quality with small-scale producers.
Rural Andean farmers need investments and support through financial and non-financial services to overcome these constraints. But those supports which should come from the public and private sectors are limited or non-existent. Inalproces does not bear this responsibility alone.
Without proper support from the public sector, as it happened in Peru in the case of native potato development, it is still very difficult to develop a new industry in Ecuador as in other developing countries. Inalproces had to develop a niche market for KIWA focusing on foreign markets where the opportunities were better than in the local market, but it was not able to replicate in Ecuador the success achieved in Peru in developing the national native potato value chain where the native potato products are well perceived by consumers. Until today, the native potato products are still very little known by consumers in Ecuador, despite some advertisements in local media and two marketing attempts to promote them as a fresh gourmet product at the largest retailer, Supermaxi. More promotion and partnership are required involving both the public and private sectors, for example involving the gastronomic sector, to improve awareness about native potatoes and their visibility with consumers.
This initiative promoting the use of indigenous potatoes has helped to increase the image of potato biodiversity in Ecuador although on a somewhat reduced scale. Some restaurants are including native potatoes in their menu and native potato chips are now available in some stores and a few supermarkets.