In Peru, ancestral values shine during COVID-19 crisis

Melissa Valdivia | September 10, 2020 | Leave a Comment

This blog was originally published in Local Futures on August 8, 2020

n the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Peruvians are facing exceptional challenges as individuals and communities throughout the country confront job losses and food shortages in addition to the virus itself.

However, these difficult times have an upside, in that they bring out the best in each of us, generating acts of solidarity; in the case of Peruvians it shows how ancestral values of solidarity, reciprocity, and balance remain in practice.

One such action is that of the Association of the Communities of the Potato Park, who on May 13th distributed more than 1 ton of native potatoes to migrants and other vulnerable groups in Cusco, including to migrants in quarantine at the local soccer stadium, a Geriatric Center, and Casa Mantay, a shelter for single abused teenage mothers.

The Potato Park is a biocultural heritage territory located in the district of Pisac, Cusco, composed of five indigenous Quechua communities.[1] The area is globally renowned for its work conserving native potato (they conserve more than 1,300 varieties of potato, making the area home to the greatest diversity of potato found anywhere in the world) and has recently been recognized as an Agrobiodiversity Zone by the Ministry of Agriculture of Peru. The coronavirus has yet to arrive in these communities, but even so, the farmers have implemented exceptional health and safety measures.

Despite COVID-19, the harvest this year has been strong. “This is the result of 20 years of consistent work in re-localizing our food system, which ensured sufficient supply of healthy foods,” explained Mariano Sutta Apocusi, a local expert from the community of Pamapallaqta. “Focusing on the local has helped us to improve access to and affordability of a great diversity of food products, especially native potatoes, quinoa, kiwicha, other Andean tubers, and maize, which we cultivate using indigenous agroecological methods,” noted Sutta.

As part of their efforts, the Potato Park has also created responses to climate change, the other crisis hitting hard Andean communities, using old Inca strategies for caring for the environment, particularly for conserving native biodiversity, food-producing habitats, and natural water systems. “This has been fundamental for our food and nutrition security,” said Ricardina Paco Condori, a local expert from the community of Paru Paru. “Healthy land produces healthy foods; and farming native crops is much better because we know these strengthen our immunity and resistance to diseases like COVID-19.”

Assuring healthy food for the entire population, however, will require changes in agricultural and food policies. “The pandemic is directly connected to the current global food system, and its corporate nature is creating a parallel food crisis that has deepened the misery of millions of people worldwide” says Cesar Argumedo, Director of Asociación ANDES of Cusco.[2] “To prevent further suffering, our government needs to ensure that trade and investment agreements do not undermine local food systems, but instead promote respect for human rights, sustainable livelihoods, and food sovereignty. The Potato Park is showing us that the most significant wealth that we have as a country is our traditional Andean agriculture and food system, not only for the high quality food it produces but because it carries the values that we badly need to pull us out of this crisis. This is the right moment to re-value and strengthen it,” concludes Argumedo.

Lorenzo Huayta Bayona, the president of the Association of the Communities of the Potato Park asserts that “the potatoes that we bring today to our brothers and sisters who lack food in Cusco is a demonstration of Ayni, the Andean principle of solidarity and reciprocity which we have practiced since Incan times. Our food systems are profoundly connected to the principles of Ayllu (community), Ayni (reciprocity), and Chaninchay (equity), and these define our economy, health, and well-being. Our native potato is helping us to maintain these practices and encourages us to do more Ayni.” said Bayona.

“The government should recognize the biocultural heritage of our ancestors and promote agriculture and food system with values as part of implementing the Right to Food. We hope that with these potatoes that we are sharing today, we are contributing to reorienting the response to the current crisis towards the Andean principles of solidarity and reciprocity. Thank you, potato” concluded Aniceto Ccoyo Ccoyo, a local expert from the community of Saccaca.

[1] The Potato Park is composed of five indigenous communities: Amaru, Chawaytire, Pamapallaqta, Paru Paru, and Saccaca. Its work focuses on the promotion of Food Neighborhoods, protection of indigenous rights, and the creation of innovative livelihood options.

[2] Asociación ANDES is an NGO based in Cusco, Peru that supports the Potato Park with independent research, coordination, and capacity building.

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