By Paula Bayarte
Huayana, Peru, Jul 8 (EFE).- The relationship between Peru’s highland indigenous peasant communities and the natural world around them is centered on rituals, respect and the importance of ancestral knowledge.
And although at times that Andean vision is met with contempt and rejection by people in urban areas, it may hold the key to addressing pressing modern-day problems such as the current food crisis or desertification.
“There’s much more of a filial conception of nature, a relationship of daughter and also of mother. A sacred relationship at times that actually alters the sense of conservation,” environmental engineer Javier Llacsa told Efe.
The natural world “is not only seen as an economic asset, but as something much more intimate vis-a-vis the person.”
That agrobiodiversity expert manages a project to safeguard a set of farming techniques that have been identified by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization as one of a handful of globally important agricultural heritage systems.
Llacsa said in a potato field in the Patahuasi area of the southern Andean department of Apurimac that communities learned over centuries how to adapt to that region’s ultra-high-altitude environment, one that is home to multiple ecosystems and can change drastically in a matter of minutes.
When these communities say the stars or the sounds made by foxes affect their harvests, those beliefs are typically dismissed out of hand by city dwellers due to their lack of understanding of the environment as an interconnected unit.
“Since they do dry farming and thus depend on the weather, as a practical matter the families have systems of climatic signs and indicators that include the position of the stars or the moon, the number of flowers in certain plants, or where birds have their nests. Everything that’s part of the landscape is a sign,” Llacsa said.
SOLUTIONS TO MODERN PROBLEMS
“These communities plant crops in rotation systems. One year, they plant on one plot of land. Then the following year they plant at another place, then another, and another, until they return several years later to the first (plot). These cycles can last up to 15 years, (allowing the soil) to rest and regain its fertility,” Llacsa said.
In these communities’ world view, Pachamama (Mother Earth) is “ceding” her land for the harvests and they have a responsibility to protect it. Under that conception of nature, it is highly unlikely that desertification will occur due to soil overexploitation.
“We’re a people who care for our soil so we don’t leave it impoverished. We’re thinking about the future as well. We have to leave good soil behind, just like our grandparents left us,” Santos Pardo, a potato farmer in Apurimac’s Huayana district, told Efe.
Agrodiversity is another tool these communities have used for centuries in the fight against food insecurity – now a particularly pressing concern in the world and a problem that experts says could affect that region in the near future.
Small farmers like Pardo plant different varieties of the same product, so that in the event of pests, frosts or droughts it is much more likely that one or more of the varieties survive and the risks associated with monoculture farming are mitigated.
When asked about higher fertilizer prices that are affecting farmers around the globe, he responded bluntly: “we don’t use that.”
“Zero (artificial) fertilizer. It doesn’t matter to us if the (price) goes up or down. With our animals we make compost, biol (a liquid organic fertilizer) and even insecticides using insect-repellent plants in the area. We don’t buy anything,” the 38-year-old farmer said before grabbing his hoe and bending down to look for buried potatoes in his plot of land.
Indigenous Andean farmers also make rituals a part of their daily routine, whether in protecting the precious gift of water or making offerings of thanks at certain times to their apus, or deities, for the food their chacras (cultivated fields in Quechua) provide them.
Llacsa said he constantly strives to win respect and recognition for this trove of ancestral knowledge at different institutions and in academic settings, where it is typically dismissed and ignored as unscientific.