From the countryside with love

Combating food insecurity in Peru with ancestral solidarity during the COVID-19 crisis

Residents in the rural areas of Peru are sending fresh, traditional foods to urban areas that are facing shortages because of pandemic-related supply chain disruptions. ©FAO


Huamani Cardenas lives in Lima, but is originally from Conayca, a rural town of roughly 1 300 people in the central highlands of Peru. When he received a delivery of fresh food from his hometown, he was thrilled. “I sincerely thank the authorities of Conayca for thinking of us,” he wrote in a social media group for young Conaycans living in Lima.

In times of crisis, it is typically rural areas that are most vulnerable to adversity. During the 2008 food crisis, 73 percent of the hardest-hit Peruvians were living in the rural Sierra and Amazon regions. In these cases, it is often big cities that send humanitarian aid to the countryside. With the COVID-19 crisis, however, the situation has reversed. The pandemic’s mobility restrictions are disrupting food supply chains and hindering access to traditional and nutritious food in urban areas.

Family farmers, belonging to several indigenous communities in rural parts of Peru, are sending help to their relatives in the cities, reviving the tradition of Apachicuy.

Apachicuy – “help the loved ones” in the Quechua language – is an ancestral indigenous practice which ensures that whatever the hardship, family, friends and community get the support they need.

Building on this tradition, FAO, in partnership with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and with Peru’s Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, launched the Apachicuy initiative as part of its agro-biodiversity project. The initiative coordinates the delivery of fresh food, produced by indigenous farming communities, to Peru’s cities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Apachicuy initiative supported by FAO and GEF builds on the indigenous tradition of sending help, in this case nutritious food, to loved ones. ©FAO

A community of heroes

Some 2 475 family farmers belonging to indigeneous communities in the rural towns of Apurímac, Cusco, Huancavelica and Puno are more than happy to give back to their families far away who are struggling to access food markets. “My relatives are suffering from food scarcity, which is why we will send them what the land provides us,” said a farmworker from Chaccrampa-Apurimac, when preparing a package for his family in Lima.

Between 25 April and 31 May 2020, 161 tonnes of healthy and diverse food harvested in the high Andean region were shipped to urban areas. Among the food items sent were native potatoes, corn, beans, wheat, meat, cheese, quinoa, avocado, peeled barley and squash. The fresh produce helped  families cope with nutritional and caloric shortages, helping to strengthen immune systems—something invaluable during a pandemic.

Thanks to the Apachicuy initiative, 2 856 families in major Peruvian cities such as such as Lima, Nazca, Pisco, Ica, Cañete, Tacna, Moquegua and Arequipa have already received sustainable and nutritious food shipments. This initiative has also supported the livelihoods of indigenous farmers, who are economically affected by the pandemic and the related containment measures that prevent their produce from reaching urban markets.

“Thanks to everyone there. Here we are on lockdown. We don’t even take a step outside. I will pray for you, so you stay safe and healthy. Hopefully the future will give us joy and laughter,” said a resident of Pisco when receiving a package of food from his nephew in Huayana-Apurimac.

Spreading solidarity

The success of this initiative, and the power of Apachicuy, has grown beyond just solidarity among loved ones. Gabino Cartolin Altamirano, the mayor of Chiara, a farming district located in the southern side of the Andes, distributed over 80 kilograms of native potatoes to urban residents in Lima.

“Our brothers from Chiara are joining forces to support their loved ones, so we decided to contribute as well. We understand that this is a very difficult situation and we hope the nutritious food will help our brothers that live in Lima,” Altamirano said. 

The Apachicuy inititiative ties into a larger project in Peru that focuses on maintaining the rich agricultural biodiversity of this area. ©FAO

Preserving Agrobiodiversity

The Apachicuy initiative is part of a larger project, the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) programme, that works with indigenous family farmers to preserve agro-biodiversity in the Andean region of Peru—one of the world’s most important centers of agricultural diversity. At over 4 000 meters above sea level, traditions and practices kept alive from the Inca civilization have carefully preserved agricultural treasures and guaranteed growing conditions. One of these practices is the terracing system used to control land degradation. The Central Andes are also a centre of origin of potatoes, where up to 177 varieties have been domesticated by generations of the Aymara and Quechua people in the valleys of Cusco and Puno.

This GIAHS project in Peru also focuses on making the ecosystem economically attractive by marketing products as organic and natural. Ensuring that projects promote agriculture, while also respecting the environment, is an important aspect of the FAO-GEF partnership.

Times of crises are also times of solidarity. Apachicuy, or helping loved ones, is a tradition and also a calling to support one another during difficult times like the COVID-19 pandemic. FAO strives to be one more source of support, protecting food and income sources for vulnerable communities during crises and beyond.

Behind all of our food, there is someone who produced, planted, harvested, fished or transported it. We thank these #FoodHeroes who, no matter the circumstances, continue to provide food for their communities and beyond - helping to grow, nourish and sustain our world. 

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2. Zero hunger, 11. Sustainable cities, 12. Responsible consumption and production