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Toribio Quispe died tragically on the 8th May 2000 in a motor car accident between Sicuani and Cusco in the Peruvian Andes. At the time he was travelling to Cusco airport to begin the long journey to Kenya to take part in the GBF and other events associated with COP V.

Toribio will be remembered by so many. He served, and was part of, the people of Canchis Province, having special qualities and abilities to negotiate space for the development of all. He was particularly associated with ground-breaking work on community irrigation management and the training of local farmer trainers, the Kamayoq'. He could relate at the highest levels and with ordinary farmers with ease - everyone respected him.

This is the paper that Toribio was due to present at the GBF, an event he was looking forward to as an opportunity to "conocer a la biodiversidad del género humano" or to meet the biodiversity of humankind.

"Tupananchiskama Wayqey"

(Until our next meeting)






Nairobi, 12 – 14 May, 2000.

Workshop: Agricultural Biodiversity Sustainable Livelihoods: The Case of Dryland Ecosystems.

Speaker: Toribio Quispe Jallo, Sicuani, Peru

Title: Threats and opportunities for farmers making use of drylands agricultural biodiversity.

1. Physical and social environment

The Vilcanota valley, at 3,600 m above sea level, is an inter-andean valley in the high Andes of Canchis province, Cusco department, Peru, South America. The climate is dry, with no rain between the months of May and November. Annual rainfall is 700 mm, beginning in November and finishing in April. The average temperature varies from 2° to 25 °C in the rainy season and from –15° - 20°C in the dry season. Frost and hail are ever-present risks to agricultural activities

Ecologically, there are up to 3 production zones: (1) the valley floor, where the main crops are maize, broad beans and wheat; (2) hillsides, where the main crops are potatoes (modern varieties), barley, olluco and oca; (3) high mountain grassland, where the only crops are native potatoes.

In the high grasslands, agricultural activities are limited to the herding of llamas and alpacas and the planting of native potaoes. Potato are the staple food of farmers in this region and the diversity of varieties is thus one of the main resources for survival. The high grasslands of Canchis province form part of the global centre of origen of the potato. A recent study in the region identified 256 ecotypes of potato.

The social organisation of farmers in the high mountains is based on the ‘campesino’ community, legally recognised by the state since 1933 but in fact dating back from several centuries before the european invasion. The general assembly of ‘comuneros’ is the principal decision-making body, and a board of directors, with 6 executive members, is responsible for carrying out the decisions.

Andean campesinos maintain their traditional culture, including the Quechua language, and form 25% of the national population. With a typical annual income per family of just US$500, Canchis province has one of the highest levels of rural poverty in Peru.

2. Cultivation of native potatoes.

Most cultivation of native potatoes tales place in the ‘puna’ or high grasslands zone at more than 4,000 metres above sea level. Agricultural activities in this zone are reduced to the herding of camellids (alpacas and llamas) and the cultivation of native potatoes.

Potatoes are grown in family or community plots, frequently on steep hillsides with gradients of more than 100%. Cultivation is rain-fed, without irrigation.

The cultivation of potatoes involves the folowing activities:

The fields where native potatoes are grown are managed under a system of rotation in which the land is cultivated for one year and then left fallow for 4-9 years, depending on soil type and land availability. This system of land rotation is known as "layme".

Individual plot sizes under the "layme" system are generally small, from 50-200 square metres, thus ensuring that the scarce available land is used in an efficient way.

The potato is a tuber crop of bushy growth form, with native varieties from the high grasslands reaching a height of 20-50 cm. The plant has arrow-like compound leaves, while flower colour may be white, purple, red or blue. The fruit is a berry from which true, or botanic, seed may be obtained.

Native potatoes are affected by a several pests and diseases, all well known to campesino farmers, who are able to control such infections using natural remedies such as the application of ash, and the removal of infected stems and leaves.

In Quechua culture all agricultural activities are carried out under the protection and permission of the spiritual force of Mother Earth, known in quechua as Pacha Mama. The thanksgiving ceremony to Pacha Mama is carried out at the start of harvest, when the head of the family presents an offering to the Goddess. This offering consists of coca leaves, wild flowers, and various other herbs and seeds, and is later buried in the centre or in a corner of the plot.

Women play a principal role during harvest. They are responsible for selecting tubers for seed, using the following criteria: health, size, colour and variety. Once sorted in different piles the men then transport the potatoes, in sacks on their backs, for storage in the patio of their houses.

3. Strategies to conserve biodiversity

Families use a number of agronomic and social practices to conserve a high level of diversity of native potato varieties. These practices are a normal part of quechua traditional culture:

This method consists of the mixed planting of a number of native potato varieties. Each family will plant a different group of varieties in their plot; the aim of this dispersed and mixed planting being to reduce the risk of damage due to climate – frost, hail – and/or pests and diseases.

Farmers recover the seeds of varieties that have been lost by visiting the fallow lands where they were previously sown and searching for tubers of the lost varieties to use as seeds. It is worth noting that farmers from different communities consider that potatoes that have grown without cultivation (volunteers) are a common good that may be used by those looking for lost varieties. The search may take several days, because farmers are permitted to seek even in far off communities.

In the months of July and August, farmers organise trips to other areas where there are known producers of potato seeds. These journeys may involve several days walking, the seeds being obtained by barter or exchange.

Many farmers work as agricultural labourers in other farming communities, receiving potato seeds as payment and thereby using this as a means to obtain seeds of different varieties.

This is a traditional method used to preserve the nutritional value of native potatoes for many years. Potatoes are submitted to below-zero temperatures for 2-3 nights and later dried in the sun, producing "chuño". These reserves can be used in years of scarcity, thereby ensuring that harvested tubers destined for seed do not have to be eaten.

4. Challenges for biodiversity conservation.

A study and inventory of native potatoes, carried out by ITDG, identified 256 ecotypes in the province of Canchis. This biodiversity is at risk because:

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