A 77-year-old Colombian farmer who did not graduate from high school has risen over six decades to become one of the world’s leading producers of potatoes.
Luis Eduardo Gutierrez, born and raised in the department of Cundinamarca, began growing potatoes at the age of seventeen. By the 1980s he was one of the world’s largest producers of the vegetable, and was dubbed ‘The Potato Czar’.
Of the three million tons of potatoes produced by Colombia each year, 40% come from Cundinamarca, and Gutierrez has played a big part in this, reported newspaper El Tiempo Thursday.
In his most profitable years Gutierrez was cultivating some 3,000 hectares of potatoes and today his crops are grown across fifteen municipalities in the department.
The Czar entered the industry at an early age after his father fell ill, leaving Gutierrez was left as the man of the house. As a result he had to abandon his education three years before graduating high school and take on responsibility for his father’s business and the welfare of his family.
It soon became apparent that Gutierrez had a lucky streak, and neighbours began to lend him land in exchange for large potato yields. By the age of nineteen the youth was able to afford his own farm and car, and went from managing a modest fifteen employees to his current workforce of over 1,000.
An uncanny ability to choose ideal terrain and climates helped Gutierrez maintain crop production throughout the year so that eventually, throughout the department, people knew the potatoes they were eating were most likely planted by him.
Today, Colombians attribute the creation of the country’s Potato Federation to Gutierrez, “we owe technology alterations, fertilization and seed improvements to him,” confirmed the Federation’s current President Augusto del Valle.
Though there are those who believe that Gutierrez’s potato empire has restricted opportunities for others, the Potato Czar maintains that his business “has not crushed small farmers.”
Gutierrez further claimed that both he and the other leaders of the industry only account for 4.5% of Cundinamarca’s total potato production, while 85% is from smaller farmers in the department.