Andean agriculture

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Neglected crops of the Andean region
Andean grains and legumes
Andean tubers
Andean roots
Andean fruits

Neglected crops of the Andean region

Common to Andean civilizations of the past was the existence of a well-organized agriculture based on an appropriate use of the environment and the continuous improvement of food plants and domesticated animals. These civilizations were aware that agriculture is the source of food and that it guarantees society's stability.

Following this line of thought, the history of major civilizations should be approached from the point of view of the domestication of plants, their variability, the improvement of the main crops and the advances achieved in agriculture.

Numerous publications have dealt with domesticated plants in the Andean region and their importance for regional and world food supplies. However, the factors which caused the marginalization of these crops have rarely been analysed. The potential for their recovery has not been highlighted, nor has the role that they could perform in improving the living conditions of peasants in other mountainous regions of the world.

Andean biodiversity

It is acknowledged that one of the ways of achieving sustainable agriculture is to maintain genetic diversity and thereby achieve a better ecological relationship. What is amazing is the fact that the pre-Hispanic cultures which ranged over the Andean highlands had domesticated a great number of species. The botanist O.F. Cook, a member of the scientific expedition that discovered the ruins of Machu Picchu, mentions that, in the sixteenth century, more domesticated species existed in the Andes than in Asia or Africa.

Since the formation of the pan-Andean empires of Tiahuanaco and Chavin, and later among the Wan, Mochica, Chimu and Nazca cultures, special interest was taken in the domestication of species. This is reflected in their representation on ceramic pieces at least 3 000 years ago. From the beginning of the fifteenth century, the Andes region constituted the Tahuantinsuyo (Inca State), and an active exchange of seeds and genetic material became widespread. Andean peasants are maintaining this biological variability through their cultivation methods as a strategy for coping with the climatic risks which commonly occur in mountain agricultures and which affect production.

In the Andes - one of the major centres of world domestication, according to Vavilov - the domestication of the potato (Solanum tuberosum andigenum) stands out; it includes seven different species, of which more than 400 varieties are still grown today.

Other plants were also domesticated, for example the oca, ulluco and mashwa, and these allowed crop rotation in the high regions of the Andes to be completed. In the valleys, maize was grown together with other crops of high food value, such as Andean grains (quinoa, amaranth), leguminous plants such as beans and lupins, and roots such as arracacha, yacón and chagos. To populate higher areas, cold-tolerant species were adapted; for instance quinoa. which can be grown up to 3 900 m; qañiwa, which thrives at 4 000 m; and a root, called mace, which is grown up to 4 200 m (Table 5).

FIGURE 12 Andean region

In using the products of various ecological areas, the Andean populations included fruits from the yunga and quechua zones in their diet. Some had very special flavours, such as the sachatomate, capulin, Peruvian pepino, various species of Cactaceae. passionfruit and mountain papayas as well as condiment, aromatic and medicinal species. It may be concluded, therefore. that the Andean region is one of the greatest centres of food plant biodiversity in the world. The considerable plant genetic variability is explained by the profuse ecological diversity that characterizes the Andes, as 18 agro-ccological areas with different agricultural uses can be identified in the central Andean region of Pew alone.

It is important to remember that the presence of numerous progenitor and wild species that are related to the domesticated species and carry the genes for adaptation to a wide diversity of high Andean climatic conditions constitutes a most valuable plant genetic resource, and its preservation urgently needs to be supported by the international community.

Conservation of Andean plant genetic resources

Until now, the survival of Andean crops has been due to the existence of numerous peasant communities which still inhabit the area and which. by preserving their traditions and their ancestral knowledge of handling as well as cultivating and using these species, have managed to prevent them from being lost.

They have also maintained numerous traditional agricultural technologies which are being undermined by erosion processes but which are fortunately the focus of various projects aimed at rescuing and improving them (sepia, 1988 Minka, 1983, 1987; Pisa, 1989). The traditional agricultural techniques are very varied and, among others, include:

· the use of biological indicators for forecasting climatic conditions;
· the development of various agricultural tools such as the simple but effective foot-plough or chakitaklla;
· managing and modifying the soil to make it suitable for production using ridges and furrows or raised plots (waru waru) terraces which modify the land relief and which may include irrigation or drainage; and qocha or depressions in the ground to collect rainwater;
· various products such as organic fertilizer, for example guano from the islands;
· crop rotation and mixed cropping systems, together with pest control and the use of insect-repellent plants;
· techniques for preserving agricultural products, such as drying potatoes and other tubers and storing them for years when production is low.

Over the last 20 years, substantial work has been carried out in the field for the systematic conservation of Andean crops and their biodiversity. It was also intended to prevent genetic erosion in the face of the advance of a modern agriculture in which homogeneity and the development of high-yielding varieties reign supreme but which applies high levels of fertilizer and makes indiscriminate use of agrochemical products.

Collecting expeditions (IBPGR, INIAP) in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia have obtained samples showing the variability of Andean crops and have ensured the conservation of a high percentage of genetic material. Of equal importance has been the compilation of descriptors of the main Andean species, done with the help of FAO's Seed and Plant Genetic Resources

TABLE 5 Main food species originating in the Andes

Crop (common name) Latin name Altitude Agro-ecological zone
Mashwa, añu Tropaeolum tuberosum 3 500 - 4100 Suni, puna
Oca Oxalis tuberosa 2 300 - 4 000 High quechua, suni
Bitter potato Solanum x curtilobum 3 900 - 4 200 Suni, puna
  Solanum x juzepczuii 3 900 - 4 200 Suni, puna
Potato Solanum indigenum 1000 - 3 900 Yunga, quechua, suni
Ullucu, oca quina Ullucus tuberosus 2 800 - 4 000 High quechua, suni
Acira, Queensland arrowroot Canna edulis 1 000 - 2 500 Yunga, low quechua
Arracacha, apio, Peruvian parsnip Arracacia xanthorrhiza 1 000 - 2 800 Yunga, low quechua
Mauka, chago Mirabilis expanse 1 000 - 2 500 Yunga, humid quechua
Maca, pepper grass, pepper weed Lepidium meyenii 3 900 - 4 200 Puna
Leafcup yacón Polymnia sonchifolia 1 000 - 3 000 Yunga, low quechua
Love-lies-bleeding. cat-tail, Inca wheat,      
tumbleweed, hiwicha Amaranthus caudatus 2 000 - 3000 Quschua
Canihua, qañiwa, cañahua Chenopodium pallidicaule 3 500 - 4 100 Suni, puna
Quinoa, quinua, suba Chenopodium quinoa 2 300 - 3 900 Quechua, suni
Kidney bean, French bean, dwarf bean,      
string bean Phaseolus vulgaris 1 500 - 3 500 Yunga, quechua
Basul Erythrina edulis 2 000 - 2 800  
Andean lupin, South American lupin Lupinus mutabilis 500 - 3 800 Yunga, quechua, suni
Cape gooseberry Physalis peruviana 500 - 2800 Yunga, quechua
Lucumo Pouteria obovata 0 - 2 700 Yunga, low quechua
Naranjilla, lulo Solanum quitoense 500 - 2 300 Yunga
Mountain papaw, papayuela Carica pubescens 500 - 2700 Yunga, quechua
Pepino Solanum muricatum 500 - 2300 Yunga
Tree tomato, tamarillo Cyphomandra betacea 500 - 2 700 Yunga, quechua
Banana passionfruit, tacso, curuba, curuba passionfruit Passiflora mollissima 2000 - 3200 Quechua

Service. In recent years, emphasis has been on in situ conservation, i.e. in the farmers' own fields and under their cultivation systems. These measures have been backed by the organization of exhibitions such as "seed fairs" where, with the participation of local peasant communities, the conservation of plant genetic diversity is encouraged and prizes are awarded.

Potential uses of Andean crops

The marginalization of Andean crops occurred because of` the low social prestige attached to certain plants that constitute the staple foods of poor populations; the laborious processes required to prepare them; and their consequent low economic return in a marginal agricultural system.

A huge promotional effort is required to increase mass consumption of these species, particularly those which stand out on account of their nutritional value, an essential condition for this being in many cases the improvement of the postharvest process. The bitter or toxic substances which the ripe fruit of some species might contain must not be a drawback, since technologies do exist for extracting them and because some compounds, such as lupin alkaloids and the saponins of quinoa, may have a pharmacological application and even be used as a biological alternative in pest and disease control.

Interesting prospects are opening up, moreover. for the expansion of some Andean crops: in the United States, Europe and New Zealand there is growing interest in the quinoa and ulluco and, throughout the world, in exotic fruit-trees such as Peruvian pepino. These crops can be processed advantageously to obtain by-products and it is possible to show that marginal yields can be modified when a secure market exists, as in the case of Brazil, for example, where arracacha gives high yields when appropriate technology is used.

For this reason, it is of utmost importance to adapt the management of traditional Andean crops to suitable technologies which enable their production to be increased. By eliminating one of the factors of their marginalization they will be able to compete under better conditions with other, more widespread crops. Advances in research and a gradual market acceptance permit a selection to be made of those Andean crops that have an immediate chance of being rescued for food use regionally and worldwide. In the following chapters, currently neglected native food species of the Andes are described, details are given of their present situation and an analysis is made of their production conditions and the potential they could have if the conditions of their marginalization were modified.


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Andean grains and legumes

Canihua (chenopodium pallidicaule)
Quinoa (Chenopodium quince)
Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus)

Canihua (chenopodium pallidicaule)

Botanical name: Chenopodium pallidicaule Heller
Family: Chenopodiaceae
Common names. English canihua; Spanish: qañiwa, cañihua (Peru), cañahua (Bolivia)

The canihua, which originated in the Andes of southern Peru and Bolivia, was domesticated by the settlers of Tiahuanaco, who established themselves on the tableland of Collao. No archaeological remains have been found connected with this plant, and the dehiscence which the seeds still display suggests that its domestication is not complete. It is important on the high plateau of Peru and Bolivia because it produces grains for human consumption at between 3 800 and 4 300 m, being very cold-resistant in its various phenological phases. At present, its cultivation and utilization are maintained at subsistence levels in these regions. One of the causes of its marginalization is the large number of people required to harvest it and its small grain size, which makes handling difficult.

Use and nutritional value

This grain has a high protein content (15 to 19 percent) and, like quinoa and love-lies-bleeding (kiwicha), a high proportion of sulphur-containing amino acids. It has the advantage of not containing saponins, which facilitates its use.

The traditional and most frequent method of consumption is in the form of lightly roasted, ground grains which produce a pleasant flour called cañihuaco . This is consumed on its own, in cold or hot drinks, or in porridges. Over IS different ways of preparing the whole grain and cañihuaco are known (as entrees, soups, stews, desserts and drinks). In the bakery industry good results have been achieved by adding 20 percent of cañihuaco to wheat flour, which gives the product (bread, biscuits) a pleasant characteristic colour and flavour.

Cañihuaco also has medicinal uses: it counteracts altitude sickness and fights dysentery while the ashes of its stem can be used as a repellent against insect and spider bites.

Botanical description

Chenopodium pallidicaule is an annual plant of 25 to 70 cm, with variations in its branching. Two types are differentiated: Saigua, of erect growth and with few secondary branches, and Lasta, which is very branched. It has a taproot with multiple slender ramifications. When it reaches maturity, its leaves and stem turn yellow, pink, orange, red or purple. Its inflorescences are on terminal and axillary cimas, covered by the leaves; the flowers are small, without petals and are of three types: hermaphrodite, pistillate and male sterile; the androecium is formed by one to three stamens, and the gynoecium has a unilocular superior ovary. The seed is from 0.5 to 1.5 mm in diameter, is brown or black, piriform and slightly compressed. The leaves are petiolate, rhomboid, trilobulate and alternate.

The seeds do not exhibit dormancy and can germinate on the plant itself if there is sufficient humidity. Because it ripens gradually, there is a spontaneous loss and dispersal of seeds, which is characteristic of the wild species. The seeds can remain for several years in the soil where C. pallidicaule has been grown.

Ecology and phytogeography

The crop extends from central Peru (Huaraz) to Cochabamba in Bolivia, between 3 000 and 4 000 m. with a greater concentration in the high plateau region. It is sporadic on small plots in the tableland of Bombón (Junin, Peru). Following are C. pallidicaule's basic requirements:

Photoperiod. It is a day-neutral plant and shows adaptability to several environments. Grain has been produced experimentally in Finland at lat. 40°N.

Humidity. The plant needs 500 to 800 mm of rain, but it can also tolerate prolonged periods of drought. It displays extreme susceptibility to excessive humidity in the first stages of development.

Temperature. Once established, the plant is very resistant to cold and can tolerate temperatures as low as -10°C during branching, since it has an adaptation mechanism whereby the leaves cover and protect the primordia and flower stems at nightfall, thus preventing the vital parts of the plant from freezing. At the other extreme, it can tolerate up to 28°C, if it has the necessary humidity.

Soil. It prefers loamy-clayey soils, as it has sufficient phosphorus and potassium. The appropriate pH varies between 4.8 and 8.5. It exhibits tolerance to salinity.

The so-called Mama Qañiwa, Machu Qañiwa and K'ita Qañiwa, which are the closest relatives of canihua, frequently grow in wild form and among crops of bitter potato. The wild forms can attain considerable sizes under good fertility conditions. These plants are harvested and eaten during years of scarcity.

Genetic diversity

The canihua displays wide genetic diversity, with several plant forms, from erect (Lasta) to creeping (Saigua). Plant and seed colour, earliness, protein content, adaptation to soils, precipitation and tolerance of pests and diseases vary. Normally, cultivated species, escape species of the crop and wild species are found. The centre of diversity is limited to the Peruvian-Bolivian high plateau, i.e. the region between the knot of Vilcanota in Peru to the salt deposits of Uyuni in Bolivia.

Some of the cultivars known in Peru are: Cupi, Ramis, Akallapi, Huanaco, Rosada, Chillihua, Condorsaya, K'ellu and Puca. In Bolivia, cultivars include Kanallapi, Chusllunca and Issualla.

There are germplasm collections at the INIAA experimental stations of Camacani and Illpa (Puno), the San Antonio Abad University in K'ayra (Cuzco). Peru, and at the University of Patacamaya (IBTA), Bolivia, where more than 380 accessions are stored in cold, dark environments, although they are inadequate for long-term conservation.

Since selected varieties have not yet been introduced on a large scale in the two countries where it is grown, there is no danger of genetic erosion.

A complementary systematic collection of genetic variability is needed in the Lake Titicaca basin, on the Peruvian-Bolivian high plateau, in ranges and areas above 4 000 m, in high Andean valleys of the central range (Ancash, Huanuco, Junin, Huancavelica, Ayacucho and Cuzco), in arid zones bordering the salt deposits in Bolivia and lastly in the puna (high Andean plateau) and prepuna of northern Argentina. Collections must be taken from crops and, more especially, from wild populations which have not yet been collected, thus completing their in situ conservation.

FIGURE 13 Andean grains: A) canihua (Chenopodium pallidicaule);A1) hermaphrodite flower; A2) male flower; A3) fruit; A4) seed; B) quinoa (C. quinoa); B1) hermaphrodite flower; B2) female flower; B3) fruit; B4) seed

Cultivation practices

Traditional cultivation takes place exclusively in dryland conditions, without fertilization, in rotation fields with bitter potato and other Andean tubers and with very little soil preparation. The seed is broadcast at the rate of approximately 5 to 8 kg per hectare. It often seems to have been sown in furrows, but these have been revealed to be no more than the ridges left over from potato growing after earthing up. Harvesting and threshing is done in several stages. These consist of pulling up the plants with their roots, shaking them so that the ripe grains fall off, then leaving them to dry for ten to 15 days and finally threshing them with curved sticks (wajtana). Because of C. pallidicaule's gradual ripening, some grains remain and threshing is generally repeated after a further ten to 15 days. Using this technique, the framer obtains from 400 to 8U0 kg of grain per hectare. The dry stems and chaff are a valued by-product for animal feeding.

However, a yield of 3 tonnes per hectare can be achieved by preparing the soil with good hoeing sowing in furrows 40 cm apart, using seed selected according to its size (5 kg per hectare) and applying fertilizer (60-40-00 or 80-80-00). Nitrogen is applied at two stages: sowing and branching. The soil is earthed up and hoed to prevent competition. Pests are controlled in the event of production being threatened, particularly in the case of Epicauta sp., Gnorimoschema sp. and Myzus sp. Harvesting takes place when the plants change colour. It consists of cutting and laying the grain for threshing after 20 to 30 days or when it is completely dry. Threshing may be done by hand, using curved sticks and sieves, or it may be mechanized, using a stationary wheat thresher (reducing the revolutions to a minimum, closing off the air intake and modifying the sieve dimensions). The grain, which is covered with fine chaff, needs cleaning. Commercial yields using this technique can amount to as much as 1 500 kg per hectare.

Prospects for improvement

Among Andean grains there are many limitations because of the low distribution of their cultivation. Genetic and agronomic research, evaluation of the germplasm and processing or industrialization have been very partial in relation to the potential of the species. The difficulty of harvesting as a consequence of non-uniform grain ripening is currently one of the main limitations.

Furthermore, outside its production area, little is known about the use of this species for food. Nor is there any agro-industrial processing of the grain. The size of the grain makes processing and domestic preparation of cañihuaco difficult. Moreover, this traditional method is falling into disuse because of its laboriousness.

The main advantages of C. pallidicaule are its adaptation to the agroclimatic conditions of cold high zones above the attitude of 3800 m, where other crops do not thrive; its nutritional value, with a 15 to 18 percent protein content and an excellent balance of essential amino acids; and the possibility of the entire plant's use as a fodder species.

Potential areas for introduction and cultivation. Cultivation could be stepped up in the flat areas of the high tableland of Peru and Bolivia and in the zones above 3 800 m of the central cordillera of the Andes.

Research, promotion and official support could result in a revival of the crop on cold land in the Andes. The lines of research and promotion necessary to initiate a wider spread of the crop are as follows: completing the collection, evaluation and characterization of the genetic material available in the Andean region, the priority being to obtain varieties ripening uniformly, with lesser dehiscence and large grains;

· producing improved seed and distributing it to producers; building efficient prototype mechanical threshers for the grain;
· implementing agro-industrial processing so as to offer attractive products which can be marketed profitably;
· publicizing its nutritional value and ways of preparing it.

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