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Ulluco is popular with Andean farmers because it has few pest and disease problems. However, even though the plant seems virtually disease free and its yields are considered high, recent studies in England indicate that it is probably invariably infected with viruses. Techniques for eliminating viruses (using meristem culture) have been developed, and disease-free clones may soon provide impressive increases in productivity. Preliminary observations indicate that virus-free plants show yield increases of 30–50 percent. With these vigorous, virus-free plants, ulluco yields comparable to those of potatoes can be expected.
Thus, it seems that removing viruses could transform this crop.
The Andes. Ulluco has greater potential than most people realize. The availability of elite virus-free stocks could push it into the mainstream of commercial agriculture throughout the Andes. Because many diseases and pests are now appearing on the potato crop, potato production is becoming increasingly expensive. Ulluco is an excellent alternative for the small farmer.
Ulluco seems particularly promising as a cash crop. Although most is grown for home use, some growers produce it mainly for the markets, and Ecuadorian farmers already consider it a prime cash crop Thus, dramatically improving yields could benefit both the diet and economic situation of the highland farmers.
Other Developing Areas. This crop is now virtually unknown outside the Andes, but, like the potato, it seems to hold promise for temperate zones and tropical highlands. Resistant to frost as well as heat, ulluco grows vigorously and particularly thrives in moist conditions. It is high yielding in terms of tubers per plant, and is adapted to high altitudes. It could be grown in many upland regions of the tropics, and it has already fared well in Sri Lanka.
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