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Big Spuds, Little Spuds

Big Spuds, Little Spuds

BIG SPUDS, LITTLE SPUDS takes a close look at the potato to examine the effects of climate change and monoculture on one of the world's staple food crops. With half the planet's population dependent on rice, wheat, potatoes, and corn, to what extent are pests and disease - often exacerbated by climate change - threatening world food security?

The people of the Andes in Peru have raised more than 5,000 varieties of potatoes. During the Green Revolution of the 1960s they were urged to adopt a handful of new high-yielding varieties, that proved to be highly vulnerable to the harsh mountain weather, and to pests and diseases. The new varieties also require massive inputs of chemicals and water.

In 1997 El Nino had a dramatic impact on the climate both in Peru, and Idaho, home of the US potato industry. In Peru, El Nino brought drought and killer frosts to the highlands: in Idaho, it brought persistent rains. With the wet weather came the blight that caused the Irish potato famine. Idaho's potato farmers were totally unprepared.

The film looks at traditional methods of potato farming where Andean families grow their own varieties, practice crop rotation, and utilize a minimum of inputs. In sharp contrast is the industrial method of production used in Idaho, and increasingly in Peru, where just a few high-yielding varieties are grown, where soil fertility decreases, pesticides lose their effectiveness, and campesinos wind up working as laborers on their own land.

But there is a new pride in the old varieties of potatoes. People are documenting the characteristics of different varieties in an attempt to preserve genetic diversity, and with it perhaps world food security.