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Andean Agroecologies: Roots and Tubers

Besides potato, nine Andean species with edible roots and tubers play a major role in potato-based farming systems. These crops are of great economic and nutritional importance to subsistence Andean farmers, and are often used as substitutes for expensive fruits and vegetables in the diet. They are known in the Quechua language as achira, ahipa, arracacha, maca, mashua, mauka, oca, ulluco, yacón. Scientists believe that new uses of Andean roots and tubers can be found to help boost their demand, especially for export, thus creating economic opportunities in an area where family incomes are less than US$300 a year. These uses include oca and achira as starches, arracacha as a baby food, and yacón in a sweetener for people with diabetes.

Most Andean roots and tubers yield well with low inputs. They also successfully withstand most biotic and abiotic stresses. In addition to their ability to grow at high altitudes under extremely difficult conditions, these crops have a wide range and mix of desirable characteristics: high vitamin, micronutrient, and starch content; high yields; and medicinal properties.

Common Name Scientific Name Family
Ulluco Ullucus tuberosus Basellaceae
Oca Oxalis tuberosa Oxalidaceae
Musha Tropaeolum tuberosum Tropaeolaceae
Arracacha Arracia xanthorrhiza Apiaceae
Yacon Polymnia sonchifolia Asteraceace
Mauka Mirabilis expansa Nyctaginaceae
Achira Canna edulis Cannaceae
Ahipa Pachyrhizus ahipa Leguminosae
Maca Lepidium meyenii Cruciferae

Source: CIP (

Andean tubers (ulluco, oca, mashua) and roots (arracacha, yacón, mauka, achira, ahipa, maca) provide food and income for poor mountain farmers across the Andean highlands. These crops have extraordinary pest and disease tolerance and nutrient efficiency, and they adapt to marginal environments. They yield well on poor soils and under adverse climatic conditions. As a result, an extremely complex mosaic of Andean agroecologies has evolved for these crops. Over time, farmers have selected them to fit a range of elevations, with diverse farming conditions, by using different agronomic practices. Some of the nine crops have been favored more than others, so the intensity of domestication and the range of biodiversity in these roots and tubers vary from crop to crop. These crops are largely unknown outside of the Andean region.

They are Ancient Here...