Western and Central Africa
Eastern and Southern Africa
Eastern Europe and Central Asia
Wednesday, 28 Jan. 2015
Women farmers returning to
the village from the fields
Farmer in Caritamaya shows her fellow
farmers the liquid manure she has prepared
Farmers in the developing world are bearing the brunt of
climate change. None more so than campesinos in the Peruvian Andes who
already live and work in some of the world’s harshest conditions. Recent years
have seen declining rainfall and increasing pests, both of which reduce farm
yields. Reduced yields means less to eat and thus the only option is to migrate
to the cities and the coast to look for work.
and Environment Programme is training farmers on good agricultural
practices in Molloco and Caritamaya, two communities outside Puno beside Lake
Titicaca. This will enable them to raise productivity and to get organic
certification and thus sell their product for export. The farmers are all
women and mostly over 40 years old. Their husbands work off-farm and help with
some of the heavier jobs when needed.
The work is hard with sowing,
tilling, weeding and harvesting by hand and livestock to tend. At almost 3,900
metres, the community must be one of the highest farms in the world. The sun
burns hard and the air is bitterly cold. Earlier in that day, a technical
officer at a quinoa cooperative we met welcomed us saying “we are not in
paradise, but close to the heavens”.
The work is also laden with risk
due to these harsh agro-climatic conditions. Two days prior to our arrival, a
frost had hit the potato crop across the region. Elmer Ventura, the lead
extension officer for the ITC project estimated it would reduce the
communities’ yields by 10%. Climate change is increasing the levels of risk.
In what was meant to be the rainy season, it had not rained for three weeks.
The result of this veranilla (short summer) was an estimated 30%
further drop in yield. Higher temperatures, whilst reducing the frequency of
frost, was also increasing the prevalence of a pest called gorgojo
that attacks the potatoes.
Improving agricultural practices helps the
farmers adapt to climate change, for example by learning how to prepare
homemade liquid organic fertilizers and natural pest controls. However, there
is a more challenging task for the communities and that is to maintain its
traditional crop rotation systems called inocas. Practicing crop
rotation is vital to maintaining soil fertility and ensuring pests are not
attracted to crops.
Inocas were created by the Incas. They are
a system of agriculture, still found in parts of the Andes, in which the
community agrees to organize cropping as a group rather than individually.
Each farmer still owns their parcel of land but the choice of the crop is
decided collectively according to the annual rotation plan. This means, for
example, on a block of 20 plots, only quinoa
is planted, whilst on the the next block of 20 plots only potatoes are planted
and so on. Other blocks plant barley, alfalfa (for nitrogen capture) or are
left fallow to give the soil time to build up fertility.
of this system is that pests can be managed so that they are less likely to
invade the potato crop (which is vital for feeding the community) and farmers
are not tempted to skip the fallow years.
According to Carlos Lozada
from Fondo America, a company that buys quinoa from the community, these Inca
farm systems broke down during and after the Spanish colonization into more
individualist approaches to farming, with many farmers making their own
choices about what to plant. As a result, farm productivity declined.
In this region, a changing climate means that a rigorous farm rotation must
be employed so that the farms withstand the effects of increased pests and
reduced rainfall. The traditional, community-driven inoca system
ensures that the required rotation takes place. However the inoca
system can only be maintained with strong community organizations, leadership
and decision making. The weakening of community ties and obligations is partly
determined by a historical legacy of individualism and more recently by an
increasing population. Subdivision of land due to inheritance is prevalent.
Furthermore, urbanization competes with agriculture for land use.
Robust responses to climate change are thus not just about putting money
into farm training and research on new varieties and finding investment for
irrigation but also addressing broader institutional issues like strengthening
farm organizations, addressing issues of land inheritance and gaining access
to distance markets. The role of women is important in terms of their access
to land and sovereignty over income and thus having the power to make the
right decisions to increase climate resilience. In this part of Latin America,
they appear to have that power, but they need outside support to maintain
their lives and culture in the face of the climate crisis.