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Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)

Andean Agriculture

Summary

Detailed Information

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Detailed Information

Global importance

Andean agriculture is one of the best examples of the adaptation and knowledge of farmers to their environment for more than 5000 years. Actual presence of indigenous agricultural knowledge includes terraces, ridge fields, local irrigation systems and traditional agricultural tools, crops and livestock spread at different altitudes.

These areas maintain most of the ancient traditional agricultural technologies, in spite of strong influences of the western agriculture which is eroding many of their old traditions. However, a higher stress from the youth leaving to the forest or the towns leads to a severe loss of knowledge and biodiversity.

Food and livelihood security

Until today the Andean traditional agricultural systems have allowed the local communities to satisfy their food needs. Indeed, all native crops and livestock are mostly used for self-consumption so the population nutrition is very depending on the local food production. Dehydrated potatoes can be conserved for several years.

Moreover, most of the houses are constructed with local materials. It is quite common to use the manure, few available trees and bushes as a fuel. A large number of medicinal plants are used in health care which underline the adaptation of the Indigenous communities in their area.

Biodiversity and ecosystem functions

Richness in agrobiodiversity is the main characteristic of the zone, within the traditional agricultural systems of native communities. More than 20 different food crop species and a large number of native varieties are still under cultivation (native species such as potatoes, quinua, kañiwa, oca, olluco, mashua, lupine and different high altitude fruits).

However, recent studies show that some native varieties of maize and potatoes are being lost and other are reduced on their area of cultivation, as a result of the introduction of commercial species among others.

Andean systems are famous for being sustainable for soils and earth as part of the culture.

Knowledge systems and adapted technologies

The GIAHS site includes three main agricultural systems, each one related to the altitude: the maize area (2800-3300 m.), the potato area (3,300-3800 m.) and the livestock area with high altitude crops such as quinua, cañihua (3,800-4500 m.). To each altitude, native selected crops are cultivated.

Some examples of used technologies are ancient terraces to convert the steep slopes in crop productive zones, the “camellones” ridges fields and the “cochas” small lagoons used as rain fall humidity reserves in the high plateau. There are also Laimes or Aynokas which are the lands for a crop sectorial rotation system used by the traditional communities. Communal land is used annually for a defined crop rotation that takes from 5 to 20 years. Work is done communally but the benefits are individual. Each crop and method are extremely adapted.

Culture, value systems and social organizations

Traditional communities selected in the transect have shown a strong social organization with their own norms and cultural rituals as the tribute to the Pachamama (mother earth) and the apus (local gods represented by hills, mountains, rivers and atmospheric phenomena). In the agricultural lands of the communities some private family parcels are found, also very variable in size, as well as communal lands.

Identity fortification is probably one of the main goals to be achieved through agricultural activities; communities will revalidate their own resources and culture. Additionally some plots are seeded to support those community families or persons such as widows, sick, orphans, which do not have resources. Solidarity and community are key principles of these systems.

Remarkable landscapes, land and water resources management features

Having been practiced for more than 5000 years, Andean traditional agriculture have shaped the landscapes. Not only arranging the lands, water management is also one of the key of the sustainability of these systems. Two remarkable examples are:

The camellones consist in building strips of land width are being elevated and channels around could be filled with rainfall water or the deviation of rivers, so the water is heated during the day and permits to maintain a more stable temperature at night.

The qochas system uses Natural depressions in the soil on flat areas were used as reservoir of rainfall water, channels were built to distribute the humidity between several of them linked together; the surrounding areas around this small pounds can be used as intensive agriculture fields at 3,900 m. of altitude.