Climate Change Threatens Quechua and Their Crops in Peru’s Andes

Inter Press Service, December 29, 2014, By Fabiola Ortiz

"PISAC, Peru (IPS)—In this town in Peru’s highlands over 3,000 metres above sea level, in the mountains surrounding the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the Quechua Indians who have lived here since time immemorial are worried about threats to their potato crops from alterations in rainfall patterns and temperatures.

'The families’ food security is definitely at risk,' agricultural technician Lino Loayza told IPS. 'The rainy season started in September, and the fields should be green, but it has only rained two or three days, and we’re really worried about the effects of the heat.' ...

In the Parque de la Papa, which is at an altitude of up to 4,500 metres and covers 9,200 hectares, 6,000 indigenous villagers from five communities—Amaru, Chawaytire, Pampallaqta, Paru Paru and Sacaca—are preserving potatoes and biodiversity, along with their spiritual rites and traditional farming techniques.

The Parque de la Papa, a mosaic of fields that hold the greatest diversity of potatoes in the world, 1,460 varieties, was created in 2002 with the support of the Asociación Andes. ...

'People are finally waking up to the problem of climate change. They’re starting to think about the future of life, the future of the family. What will the weather be like? Will we have food?' 50-year-old community leader Lino Mamani, one of the "papa arariwa"—potato guardians, in Quechua—told IPS.

He said that whoever is sceptical about climate change can come to the Peruvian Andes to see that it’s real. 'Pachamama [mother earth, in Quechua] is nervous about what we are doing to her. All of the crops are moving up the mountains, to higher and higher ground, and they will do so until it’s too high to grow,' he said.

As temperatures rise, plant pests and diseases are increasing, such as the Andean potato weevil or potato late blight (Phytophthora infestans).

To prevent crop damage, over the last 30 years farmers have increased the altitude at which they plant potatoes by more than 1,000 metres, said Mamani. That information was confirmed by the Asociación Andes and by researchers at the International Potato Centre (CIP), based in Lima.

But the most dramatic effects for Cuzco’s Quechua peasant farmers have been seen in the last 15 years.

'Nature used to let us know when was the best time for each step, in farming. But now, Pachamama is confused, and we are losing our reference points among the animals and the plants, which don’t have a flowering season anymore,' Mamani lamented.

The soil is drier and the potato-growing season has already shrunk from five or six months to four.

'We are all joined together by potatoes, in our style of life, gastronomy, culture and spirituality. Potatoes are sacred, we have to know how to treat them, they are important for our livelihoods and they connect us to life,' the "papa arariwa" said. ..."

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