ILVO, HOGENT and TRIAS are hosting a Peruvian delegation to the Food Pilot (ILVO, Melle, Belgium) to get the production of so-called “tuntas” (freeze dried potatoes) in a small cooperative factory in the Andes. Flemish food technologists perform experiments and analyses in Belgium together with the Peruvians. The goal of the development cooperation project is to make the factory-produced tuntas as high-quality as the traditional product, and to make it possible to produce them year-round – even in the rainy season.
Climate change has made it difficult, if not impossible, to apply the traditional production method for tuntas, where the potatoes are first soaked then left to freeze-dry in the icy, dry, open air in the high alpine for weeks.
Tuntas – pure white bitter potato tubers – form a central part of the daily diet of the Andean population. For Peruvian farmers, they are a major source of income.
Warm nights with too much moisture
Peru is one of the largest potato producers in the world. The Andean region of Kishuara has been home to a natural processing technique for storing potatoes since the Inca era. Local growers put them above a certain height limit and let them freeze-dry in the cold mountain air. Then they are immersed in running water and re-dried in open air. The result are white freeze dried potatoes or “tuntas”, an important basic ingredient for the local population.
Isabelle Lindemans (TRIAS): 'During the rainy season it is not possible to produce tuntas in the open air. In addition, the low night temperatures that are essential for the traditional tunta-processing process have hardly been reached in recent years due to climate change. The result is large losses and uncertainty for hundreds of farming families.'
In Kishuara, the peasants joined forces in the cooperative called Coopagros. With the help of TRIAS they have built a small Tunta factory. This factory is equipped with semi-industrial equipment such as a freezing chamber, water basins and a drying place in which the traditional production process can be simulated.
But the final quality of these new tuntas is not as good as the traditional ones, and the production still stops during the rainy season. Thomas Ancco Vizcarra (agricultural researcher, UNAJMA University in Moquegua, Peru): 'Making tuntas has always been a way to save the smaller potatoes that are not immediately sold on the fresh market for later consumption. This affects a large group: around 70% of potato production in Kishuara is too small for the fresh market and is sold at lower prices. Only a small part is upgraded to tuntas. If this share can rise through some viable technical solutions, this means a significant improvement in the quality of life of the farmers' families.'
OPTITUNTA: Semi-industrial production process optimized and expertise shared
TRIAS, a Belgian NGO for development cooperation with expertise in supporting farmers' cooperatives, has been guiding the 260 members of Coopagros in Peru for some time already. In a previous project (Coalición Chuño – supported in part by the Belgian province of West Flanders), the factory and equipment were installed. Now the potato processing is being addressed.
Earlier this year, ILVO, HOGENT and TRIAS started working with the local University of UNAJMA and the cooperative Coopagros the VLIRUOS Project OPTITUNTA. VLIRUOS is a funding program for cooperation between Flemish knowledge institutions and projects in the global south with the aim of formulating innovative solutions to global and local challenges. For two years, the partners will work together to UNAJMA the production process at the factory and at the same time to provide the students and professors of the company with the necessary knowledge so that they can subsequently take an advisory role for the local farmers.
11-19 June: Two Peruvian professors visit the Food Pilot in Melle
The question being discussed during this in-person knowledge-exchange is what exactly determines the quality of a tunta, and how best to steer the process. Nathalie Bernaert (ILVO): 'Currently, the final quality of the factory-made tuntas can still be improved. The freezing, dipping and drying steps all need further investigation and optimization. To start with, we have already established the quality parameters that a good tunta must meet.'
Marianne De Meerleer, University College Ghent: 'In recent months, together with ILVO we have analysed 5 commercially available tuntas that we brought from Peru. That gave us insight into the factors that determine the quality. This week we want to share that knowledge with the Peruvian professors from UNAJMA and listen to their findings.'
ILVO and HOGENT, together with UNAJMA, will use the newly acquired knowledge in the coming days and months to adjust the various production steps in the tunta factory. A handbook will be written for potato farmers. Ultimately, this should lead to a freeze dried potato of top quality that can be produced around the year, even during the rainy season.
Nele Jacobs, communication ILVO: +32 472530696, firstname.lastname@example.org
Nathalie Bernaert, expert ILVO: email@example.com
Marianne Demeerleer, expert HOGENT: firstname.lastname@example.org
Koen Symons, communication TRIAS: email@example.com
Also look at: https://www.trias.ngo/nl/nieuws/vlaamse-onderzoekers-bestuderen-gevriesdroogde-aardappelen