Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Peru Update

Hello everybody.
First of all. I posted all my photos to flickr. If you are bored or have time, you can acess them through the link to the right. The pics of this page just provide you a littles taste.
Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to check my stuff out. I am stuck on the internet today figuring out some plans for the rest of my year, money, plane flights, etc. Some of you may be dissapointed, but I have decided to go to Greece instead of Mexico. Its hard to explain my rationale, but after all year of studying other peoples cultures and traditions, I have become very inspired to learn about my own. My grandparents came from Greece and so I have decided to end my year by doing a pilgrimage back to the area where we are from and learning about my roots, ancient wheat varieties in Greece, and the state of agriculture there. I have already been in touch with some seed saving groups in greece and hope to find some of my family who is still farming! Yeah Greece! Yeah Peru!

I just got back from an amazing ten days staying with a rural village high in the Andes in Central Peru. I arrived in Ccasapata alone and confused after many days of bus rides. After much confusion, I ended up staying in the office of an NGO who is focused on reducing poverty through biodiversity (Yannapai) and improving farmers livelihood. Like many, they view biodviersity as the key to food security!
A great contact I made with the International Potato Center helped make arrangemnents for me to come to this area because they are known for their extensive potato diversity still being grown. There are over 400 varieties in that area alone. All families I spoke to grew atleast 10 varieties in a mixed field and some grew up to 140 or 200 varieties. The mixed fields or ¨chacros¨are truly stunning and I loved hearing about each variety from the old women and even the children - who knew the taste and use for all this diversity.

My first few days I really struggled with language barriers, being accepted in the community, etc. After a couple days I made my english translator leave because she was complaining so much - shes a city girl and we were lving pretty rough - no shower, no proper toilet, mud everywhere, cold nights, etc. After she left it was actually much better. People in the community got to know me and I had some incredible experiences. I did about 10 interviews, but then gave up saying I was a researcher and began to enjoy much more just walking and talking with people, visiting farms, attending meetings, eating every color of potato imaginable in crowded kitchens, etc.

I helped some people in the office with their research, helped a couple families harvesting potatoes (man am I out of shape) and just enjoyed observing the village life. It was a pretty remote area that it still very rich in traditional culture. People are very proud of their local tradtions - especially their dress and potato diversity. I ate so many different great potatoes - totally different than what we have in the states. The villagers really value the starchyness of the potatoes and complain that modern varieites or varieties grown with chemical fertilizers are very watery (very true!)

It was great just laughing with villagers and asking them all why the potato diversity is important. Once again, I saw that even these poor people value taste a lot in what they grow. The native varieties also resist pest and frost, need less fertilizer, have more flavor, and can be used for a variety of dishes. However, the most common answer was taste. I was asked by a couple people if I thought children would eat the same bland white potato every day? I guess not

Potatoes are an incredibly versatile crop. They can grow at sea level and at these high harsh altitudes! Some fields I visited were above 4,000 meters (over 12,500 feet above sea level). It was a challenge for mew to just walk into or out of these steep fields which have been farmed for millenia. Once again I loved hearing farmers traditional knowledge and seeing how scientists are working on improving it. There were great crop rotation systems and I really enjoyed learning about how they make Chuno - the freeze-dried potatoes. All the farmers had slightly different criteria for how they select potatoes for seed and store them. One farmer told me he slects potatoes with large beautiful gringo eyes like mine. Haha!
They dressed me up in their traditional garb and the last day I attended a large festival which was centered around horse races (pretty cool- but dangerous too).
Soo, each day was a challenge - but overall another great experience that forced me to make many independent decisions and taught me a lot about both seeds and myself!
I saw again how important native crop varieties and diversity is to the survival of farmers in harsh conditions or outside industrial agriculture.
My last day was my favorite as I got to work all day harvesting a mixed field of native potatoes. Every few feet revealed a new beautiful variety. It was like unearthing a new msterpiece the earth painted every few minutes. The kids played with me and helped all day (taking breaks to carry each other in potato sacks and throw dirt at me). The family was so excited to show me potatoes they had got from their ancestoras and tell me about each variety as it was unearthed. One little girl made a pile for me so that I could see the diversity. At the end she told me why she liked each one and which ones her sister didnt like or which ones made her strong or resisted frost.

This is just a quick random summary. I am still digesting all I learned and saw. Will hopefully write more soon. Im currently a bit lonely and sick of travelling but trying to embrace each day.


Sarah said...

Thanks for the update and the great photos. I hope you are going to do a book when you get home....... Enjoy Greece.

Chris said...

Greece, eh? When are you coming? I'm next door in Turkey and will be here all summer.

- Chris Wohlers