Ancient Incan agriculture revived due to
Condensed by Native Village
Peru: Peru's most remote Andean communities are high in the mountains. At 13,000 feet, the village of Pomacocha is pretty much the upper limits of agriculture.
For centuries, Pomacocha's residents have grown corn in fertile valleys and potatoes on slopes that push against the sky. The crops are fed by seasonal rains and glacial streams.
But climate change is hitting the high Andes hard. Extreme swings in temperature and precipitation are more frequent; the glaciers are shrinking fast. A tough place to farm is becoming even tougher.
To help deal with these changes, Pomacocha's thousand or so residents are reviving ancient Andean crops and farming methods.
revive ancient Andean crops
Mariano Ccaccya is the local head of Cusichaca Andina, a nonprofit group working to revive ancient Andean crops. He is growing huaña, a small, pink potato. Huaña is a native potato in this part of Peru, but Ccaccya says it had fallen out of favor and was about to disappear.
Huaña are bitter, and it takes a lot of work to make them edible. But Ccaccya cites good reasons to grow them during uncertain times: huaña can be stored for two or three years, more than four times as long as most other potatoes, and huaña resist frost, hail, extreme rain and drought.
"Now that we're in the crisis of climate change, it's worth recovering these potatoes," said Adripino Jayo who works with Ccaccya's at Cusichaca Andina.
Others think so too. Jayo and Ccaccya's Cusichaca Andina has won a grant from the World Bank. The funds will help them promote ancient and resilient Andean crops including quinoa, amaranth, and different types of potatoes and squashes.
REVIVE ANCIENT ANDEAN GROWING METHODS
On a steep slope near the fields is an overgrown rock wall. Jayo says they are part of a long-abandoned system of agricultural terraces. The Incas built the terraces into Peru's mountains more than 500 years ago. Terraces like these once blanketed thousands of square miles of the Andes.
"They built level terraces on the mountains and hillsides, wherever the soil was good. And these are to be seen today in Cusco and in the whole of Peru," Garcilaso de la Vega wrote in the 17th century book, The Royal Commentaries of the Incas.
After European invasion, Spanish crops and agricultural systems displaced traditional ones. Only a small fraction of the terraces are still used today.
But in Pomacocha, old terraces are being restored, and new ones are being built. These ancient terraces have many benefits. They channel water for irrigation while avoiding erosion, hold water for months, and plants grown on them are more productive.
REVIVING ANCIENT INCAN IRRIGATION SYSTEMS
"The Cisterns, or Conservatories, were about twelve foot deep, in channels made of hewn stone," de la Vega wrote, "and rammed in with earth so hard, that no water could pass between… But the Spaniards little regarded the convenience of these works, but rather out of a scornful and disdaining humor, have suffered them unto ruin, beyond all recovery."
Centuries later, men are working on the ruins of ancient Incan irrigation channels. They're chiseling and lining up stones along a long-abandoned canal once used to divert water from a nearby spring.
"It's always been here," Jayo says, pointing at the stone canal. "It's probably from pre-Incan times, but it's still useful for irrigation, with a little help."
Cusichaca Andina and other groups are teaching communities in Peru's high Andes how to rebuild and use these canals, along with other ancient agricultural techniques.
It's all part of an effort to increase the resilience and food security.
Cusichaca Andina can only make a small dent in a vast need, Jayo says. The Peruvian government has a big role to play as well. The group wants politicians to apply what it's doing across all of the Andes.
So far national politicians haven't picked up that slack.
But Cusichaca Andina may be able to help other mountainous regions. China, the world's largest country, faces huge challenges from climate change and water shortages. It also happens to have its own system of ancient mountain terraces just be waiting to be revived.