Each Andean nation should have at least one national center for cleansing propagation materials.2 Moreover, with appropriate control procedures, reinfection of the plants can be minimized. Some plants, for example, take up to 10 generations to develop significant levels of reinfection.
Also, small agronomic improvements could have big effects. For example, in the Andes oca now has an average yield of 4.5 tons per hectare, but experimental plots, in which a little manure or fertilizer was used, have produced almost 10 times that amount. Similar improvements are likely with the other Andean roots.
All in all, it is important to give more emphasis to root crops. They are often the crops of the poor. They provide more calories per hectare than the major grains. Perhaps more than most types of food plants, they are vital in remote areas, removed from the mainstream of commerce and agricultural extension. In addition, root crops are in increasing demand throughout the world.
Together, the Andean root crops represent a new wealth of germplasm. It is the most promising source of new crops of this type. Considering that the Incas grew all these species along with potatoes, it seems irrational that only the potato has global promise. The 16 others described in this section at least deserve a chance. Given attention by plant breeders and other specialists, some, at least, could become important sources of food, not only for the Andes, but for dozens of countries where they are at present unknown.
HOW THE POTATO REACHED EUROPE
To provide perspective on the possible future adoption of the root crops described in the following section, it is instructive to consider the irrational reception the Europeans first accorded the potato.
When Columbus set foot in the New World, Europeans had no inkling of the existence of the potato. They lived on cabbage soup and mushes and gruels made of wheat, rye, barley, or dried peas. And, despite recurrent crop failures and repetitive famines, they seemed satisfied.
It was only in 1535, near Lake Titicaca in southern Peru, that Europeans—the Spanish conquistadores—first reported seeing this tuber that had been domesticated by Andean Indians thousands of years before. In his Chronicle of Peru, Pedro de Cieza de León wrote perhaps the first description. “…[T]he roots…are the size of an egg, more or less, some round some elongated; they are white and purple and yellow, floury roots of good flavor, a delicacy to the Indians and a dainty dish even for the Spaniards.”