A view from the Andes
Lino Mamani is a papa arariwa ("potato guardian", in Quechua) in the Sacaca farming community near Pisac, in the Peruvian Andes. On their land, his and five neighbouring communities have established a 12 000 ha "potato park" where they cultivate and conserve Andean potato varieties
How did the potato park come into existence?
"Our communities signed an agreement in December 2004 with the International Potato Center [CIP] to establish the park and to work together to preserve our potato biodiversity. This area has about 600 native varieties that we have always grown here. CIP has also repatriated to us hundreds of varieties from its collection, and with the help of our Pacha Mama [Mother Earth] we are adapting them to live here."
How many varieties are you now cultivating?
"We have about 1 000 varieties of native potatoes here. We have planted the repatriated varieties in different parts of the mountains, where they are learning how to adapt themselves, how to live in the places where we have put them. We know that some like it a little bit colder and some a little bit warmer. Pacha Mama knows how to nurture them. With a larger number of varieties we make Pacha Mama happy, so she will allow us to have bigger harvests and provide food for our families."
Do you grow any modern varieties?
"We don't like modern potatoes - we have had bad experiences in the past because they need chemicals and pesticides, which poison the earth, and they don't grow well on our land. Our native varieties live well with their wild relatives, which you will find all around here. They have a good relationship, like a family. But our potatoes don't live well with modern varieties. The potatoes you see here belong to us. They came to us from our ancestors and will go on with our children."
How do the communities work together?
"If we succeed in adapting a variety to our area, we share it with the other communities. All of the communities in the park work together like one person. But we are concerned about our legal status. We want the national government to recognize the potato park and the work that we do, so that the park will continue to be managed by and for the communities. We have asked the Regional Government of Cuzco create a biodiversity fund that will protect the traditional life of the communities and provide legal status for the potato park."
Have you seen the effects of climate change in this valley?
"In the old days, the rain came at the right time, the land was very fertile, and the sun used to shine in the right amount. Now we see that the sun is hotter, the rains do not come at the right time, we have hailstorms and freezing temperatures, and droughts like we have never seen before. There is also an increase in insect pests and diseases. The potato varieties that our grandfathers grew down by the river are now moving higher up the mountain slopes. In this land, we have our apu [sacred mountains] around us, which help our potatoes and the other crops and animals to grow. Once there was snow on those mountains, now they look sad, because the climate is getting warmer and there is no more snow. Other species and animals are suffering – the condor, foxes, deer, ducks and fish that have always lived with us and are very dear to us. We know that Pacha Mama is not happy with all these changes and we have to work together to make her happy again."