The Peruvian economy is solid, one of the least risky economies in Latin America and, according the World Bank (WB), it is one of the fastest-growing countries in the region; however, there are several aspects that are not reflected in the figures and that need to be improved. The problem is that over the years, the government management has not prioritized the national budget in development programs or social impact projects in provinces where rains, cold and famine hit hard.
Provinces like Cajamarca, Huancavelica, Amazonas, Apurimac or Junín are places where the situation is really serious. Not to mention, Huancavelica, where 80% of its population lives in a state of poverty. This province subsists thanks to agriculture and its production is basically for self-consumption. An important fact is that Huancavelica is the first producer of native potatoes, barley, quinoa, olluco and peas in Peru with more than 15 thousand hectares concentrated in the districts of Tayacaja and Acobamba.
The big problem here is that, besides the fact that these people do not have the support of the government, big companies take advantage of the farmers. Businessmen buy the products of these farmers at a very low price, which is why even though they are the main producers of the country, the money that they collect is minimal, reason why it only reaches to pay the basic expenses of their families and to continue producing.
That is why AGUAPAN was founded in order to reduce poverty and to promote agriculture and sustainable development in these communities. This is the “Association of Guardians of Native Potatoes from the Center of Peru”, an association of 50 custodian farmers from 5 different Departments of Peru (Pasco, Lima, Huánuco, Huancavelica and Junín). AGUAPAN is financed by HZPC, a Dutch potato breeding company, which, allocates a sum to this association every year as acknowledging the importance of the conservation and selection work done by Andean farmers for centuries. The funds are divided equally among the families that form the association whom are able to manage a certain part of its portion on its own. A survey among farmers in 2016 reflects that the money was used mainly for purchasing organic fertilizer and paying for hand labor in the potato fields, as well as for school and medical expenses. This is a novel form of benefit sharing between a breeding company and indigenous farmers, which supports rural livelihoods and in-situ conservation of potato agrobiodiversity.
AGUAPAN works together with other organizations, such as the CIP (International Center of Potato) which, through the use of new technologies and research systems, is in charge of conserving the genetic resources of various tuberculosis for the coming decades. So is the NGO Yanapai, who is responsible for implementing innovation and development policies to improve the management and management of natural resources for sustainable agro-ecological systems; and SPDA (Peruvian Society for Environmental Law), who is in charge of promoting and verifying the effective implementation of environmental policies and standards by participating as an intermediary between the government and the farmers. This cooperative work facilitates the coordination, monitoring and exchange of experiences in the microcenters located in different countries of Latin America.
Farmers in these communities are very proud of the varieties of native potatoes that they have been cultivating for hundreds of years. The challenge here is that very few people speak Spanish, the official language in this country. That is, the majority of people in the communities are Quechua speakers, so understanding the farmers was rather difficult at the beginning; especially for researchers and collaborators who come from other countries. So all engineers and researchers were trained in Quechua so they could talk to the villagers and understand their needs, traditions and cultivation techniques. This was very useful to document in detail the diversity of tubers, production areas, management systems, local knowledge and threats to agricultural biodiversity.
One of the oldest techniques used by farmers is that they usually plant a large number of different varieties in “Chaqros”. “Chaqro” means mixture in Quechua. That is, the more variety, the land becomes stronger and more fertile. This technique allows to handle adverse weather conditions such as frost.
On the other hand, in the districts of Yauli and Paucará in Huancavelica and Haquira in Apurímac, several young people were trained, by engineers of Yanapai, in plot mapping using GPS and questionnaires in the community. The aim of this study is to monitor the temporal and spatial change of native potato diversity in communities and to determine which are the most common and scarce potatoes and the influencing factors. This exercise will be repeated in 5 years to see the change over time.
This case shows that teamwork and cooperation can accomplish great things; however, the government must commit to supporting people in these provinces. Also, the participation of youth and education in technologies in the new generations is a very important element to maximize effective use of natural resources and conserve stability of species diversity.