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Creative growers of Peru

THE ancient Peruvians were among the world's greatest experimenters with agriculture, Jack Weatherford comments. Starting thousands of years before the Incas, the Indians of the Andes learned how to develop a different kind of plant for every type of soil and weather condition. They wanted potatoes in a variety of sizes, textures, and colors - from whites and yellows to purples, reds, oranges, and browns.

Some varieties required a lot of water, others very little. Some matured quickly, others slowly.

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This meant that if some potatoes were lost in a dry season, others would thrive. If one suffered from lack of sun, another would fill the gap, and losses would be minimal rather than a complete crop being devastated.

The Peruvians produced corn in just as many varieties and diverse habitats. They also grew various kinds of the American Indian grain crops amaranth and quinoa.

Today amaranth has become one of the most important cereals in the diets of the highland peoples in India, China, Pakistan, Tibet, and Nepal. Cultivation has spread so widely in the past century that Asia now produces and consumes more amaranth than the Americas do.

``The world has yet to fully utilize these grains,'' Mr. Weatherford says.

``Amaranth and quinoa are now available in some US natural food stores, but are known by very few people.''

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