Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)

The Central Andes are a primary centre of origin of potatoes

Andean Agriculture, Peru

The Central Andes are a primary centre of origin of potatoes. Up to 177 varieties have been domesticated by generations of Aymara and Quechua in the valleys of Cusco and Puno, not far from the famous Macchu Pichu.



The Central Andes are a primary centre of origin of potatoes. Up to 177 varieties have been domesticated by generations of Aymara and Quechua in the valleys of Cusco and Puno, not far from the famous Macchu Pichu.

A long list of cultural and agriculture treasures from the Inca civilization has been carefully preserved and improved over centuries to guarantee living conditions over 4000 meters above sea level. One of the most amazing features of this heritage is the terracing system used to control land degradation.

Terraces allow cultivation in steep slopes and different altitudes. From a range of 2800 to 4500 meters, three main agricultural systems can be found: maize is cultivated in the lower areas (2500-3500 m.o.s.l.), potato mainly at medium altitudes (3500-3900 m.o.s.l.).

Above 4,000 meters the areas are mostly used as rangeland, but can still be cultivated with high altitude crops as well. In the high plateau, around Lake Titicaca, farmers dig trenches (called "sukakollos") around their fields.

These trenches are filled with water, which is warmed by sunlight. When temperatures drop at night, the water gives off warm steam that serves as frost protection for several varieties of potato and other native crops, such as quinoa.

However, a number of socioeconomic and environmental factors, including water contamination, insecure land tenure and fragmentation of the collective property systems, male out-migration in search of earning opportunities and problems with storage and distribution of seeds of native varieties are posing a serious threat to this unique, culturally and biologically rich environment.

The GIAHS Initiative , in coordination with local institutions and the participation of local communities, will help value these ingenious agricultural technologies to guarantee their preservation, while providing sustainable development conditions for present and future generations of Andean peoples.

Detailed Information

Detailed Information

Country and locations: Perú, Cusco and Puno

Project title: “From Machupicchu to Lake Titicaca”

Proponent/requesting agency: Consejo Nacional del Ambiente –  CONA


  • Cusco: Carmen in the Vilcanota valley, Lares
  • Puno: Caritamaya, San José

Area of GIAHS: 30,798 ha

Agricultural biodiversity:
Primary centre of origin of potatoes, quinoa, kañiwa, chilis, the chinchona tree, the coca shrub, oca, olluco, mashwa, amaranth, leguminous plants, such as beans and lupins, and roots, such as arracacha, yacón, mace and chagos;

Extraordinarily polymorphic groups of the soft corn have been differentiated;


Patatoes (105 var.), Oca (25 var.) Olluco (14 var.), Mashua (20 var.), Maiz (34), Quinoa, Kañiwa, Lupins, Llamas, Alpcas, wild relatives


Potatoes (177 var.), Oca (20 var.), Olluco (11 var.), Mashua (17 var.), Maiz (23), Quinoa, Kañiwa, Lupins, Llamas, Alpcas, wild relatives


Patatoes (28 varieties). Bitter potatoes (13 var.) Quinoa (43 var.), Kañiwa (8 var.), Oca, Olluco, Llamas, Alpacas (all 24 colors, 3 mayor breeds)

San José:

Potatoes (80 var.), Mashua (14 var.), Olluco (18 var.), Kañiwa (12 var.) Oca (20 var.) Llamas, Alpacas

Associated biodiversity:
Vicuña; Endemic grassland and wetland birds (including many North American migrants); Wild medicinal and food plants; Wild crop relatives.

On the altipiano:

La Chilligua (Festuca dolicophylla)

Inter-andian zones:

La Cebadilla (Bromus unioloides)

Forest bordering agricultural areas:

La Queñua  (Polylepis incana)
El Colli (Buddleia coriacea)

Wild indicator species of mis-management (invasive):

Canlli (Margiricarpus pinnatus)
Garbancillo (Astragalus sp.)
Kikuyo (Pennistum clandestinum)

Ecosystem functions:

  • Climate regulation through water management (waru waru, qochas); 
  • Pest and disease control thanks to hedges;
  • Land degradation control through terracing;
  • Efficient water-use through Inca and pre-Inca irrigation systems.

Ethnicity: Aymara (Puno), Quechua (Cusco)

Socio-economic and cultural characteristics:
The majority of the community members in the four selected sites live below the poverty line. Agricultural production is almost entirely for self-consumption and deploys large crop diversity as a risk-mitigating strategy. Some products are marketed such as artisan products and wool of llamas.

The two indigenous populations live in remote areas with little public services and remain socio-economically marginalized.

Studies on loss of agricultural biodiversity have revealed that the rate of loss that has started to take place in recent decades is largely due to out-migration of males and the resulting overburdening of women.

Threats –main factors affecting the conservation of agricultural biodiversity:

  • Water contamination;
  • Replacement of native varieties;
  • Migration and cultural erosion (opportunity costs of labour); 
  • Problems with storage and distribution of seeds of native varieties;
  • Insecure land tenure and fragmentation of the collective property systems, which have been closely associated with the collective management of agricultural biodiversity; 
  • Erosion of gender specific roles and knowledge regarding biodiversity management resulting from a shift in responsibilities because of male out-migration (opportunity cost of labour).

Main objectives and activities in the pilot system:

The transect chosen as a pilot site of the GIAHS project is located in the southern area of the Peruvian Andes and includes the environment around the sacred city of the Incas, Machu Picchu, (1900 m), follows the whole Vilcanota river watershed up to the divortium aquarium in the Raya (4,300 m), crosses the northern part of the Peruvian highplateau to reach lake Titicaca at 3,800 m.

In this transect (about 350 km long) four communities have been selected as specific sites of activities. These areas maintain most of the ancient traditional agricultural technologies, in spite of strong influences of western agriculture, which is eroding many of their old traditions.

The GIAHS project, in coordination with the Peruvian Ministerio del Ambiente (MINAM) and the participation of local institutions, will help value these ingenious agricultural technologies proved for centuries in order to maintain this unique, culturally and biologically rich environment for future generations.

High quality seed production of main native crops will be an important activity to be implemented, in coordination with the peasants of the selected sites and local institutions. Communal fairs will also be held to facilitate an equity market.



  • Arariwa (El Carmen and Lares)
  • Centro de Servicios Agropecuarios (CESA)
  • Centro International de la Papa (CIP) –Parque de la Papa/ ANDES
  • MINAM (National Environmental Council)
  • Farming communities of 4 micro-watersheds1
  • Department of Cusco: Micro Cuencas del Carmen in the Vilcanota valley; Cuenca de Lares
  • Department of Puno: Micro Cuenca de San José; Comunidad de Caritamaya, CC de la microcuenca, provincia Acora
  • IMA
  • National Institute for Agricultural Innovation (INIA)
  • Experimantal Station Andenes (INIA-Cusco); Experimental Station (INIA-Puno)
  • In-Situ Conservation of Native cultivars and Wild Relatives (UNDP-GEF-FSP OP13)
  • ITDG
  • La Asociación de Productores de transformadores de papa en Tunta de la cc de Chijichaya, Ilave
  • La Asociación de Transformadores de Carne de Alpaca en Charki, de Azangaro
  • Municipalities of 4 Micro-watersheds
  • In Cusco: Municipalidad de Lares and Municipalidad de Lamay
  • In Puno: Municipalidad de San Jose and Municipalidad de Acora
  • 2 Regional Governments
  • 4 local schools of agriculture (2 Quechuas and 2 Aymaras)

1 If you would like to contact the farmer communities please send us an e-mail, we will provide you with the contact details.