Classroom Discussion Activity

Potato Biodiversity: Ensuring the Future

This activity accompanies the Science Bulletins documentary Potato Biodiversity: Ensuring the Future.

Farmers in the Andes use biodiversity as insurance. The potato, a plant native to the area that is now the world’s fourth most important staple crop, is still locally grown in thousands of varieties. With help from Lima’s International Potato Center, Andean farmers are preserving potato diversity to protect this critical food source against threats like pests and diseases, weather extremes, and climate change.


Establish Prior Knowledge

Discuss potatoes and potato diversity with students. Use the following to generate a discussion.

  • Take a minute to think about the kinds of potatoes you eat, not how they are prepared. Name as many different kinds of potatoes you can. (Answers will vary and may include: white potatoes, Yukon gold, russet potatoes, red potatoes, yellow potatoes, purple/blue potatoes, fingerling potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams.)
  • Think about the role potatoes play in our diet. How many time a week do you eat some form of potatoes? (Answers will vary.)
  • How many pounds of potatoes do you think the average American eats in a year? (Answers will vary. Sources estimate an average American eats 142 pounds of potatoes a year.)

Point out that potatoes are the world’s fourth most staple crop. Tell students that in the video they are about to see, scientists in Peru work to preserve potato diversity.


Have students watch the video and take notes. Use the following questions to guide a class discussion.

  • Why are potatoes an important crop in Peru? (Answers should include: Potatoes are a key part of the Peruvian diet. Many Peruvians depend on potatoes for income.)
  • What is threatening potato diversity? (Answers should include: Climate change, political instability, and urbanization.)
  • What steps are being taken to preserve potato diversity? (Answer: At the International Potato Center many different types of potatoes are preserved in test tubes.)
  • What are the three different kinds of potatoes being preserved and what are their characteristics? (Answer: Wild potatoes: small and bitter; native potatoes: cultivated wild potatoes; improved potatoes: native potatoes bred with wild potatoes in order to make them disease resistant or heat tolerant.)
  • What major problem do potato farmers in the Andes face and what’s being done to solve the problem? (Answer: a warming climate is the major problem. Farmers are moving their crops to higher altitudes where it is cooler. They are also using improved potatoes that have been bred to be heat tolerant.)


  • What advantages do improved potatoes have over native potatoes? (Answers may vary but could include: Improved potatoes have higher yields, are cheaper in price, or can be adapted to the changing climate.)
  • If improved potatoes are so much better than native potatoes, why plant native potatoes at all? (Answers will vary. Some will say that it is important to protect the diversity of native potatoes as well.)

For a printable version of this activity, download the file below: