Reviving ancient Incan agriculture could be a herculean task. Have you ever heard of huana? Neither had I.
The huana, a small pink potato, is the native potato in part of Peru. Mariano Ccaccya said it had fallen out of favor in recent decades and was about to disappear.
“It’s very, very strong,” Jayo says. “Now that we’re in the crisis of climate change, it’s worth recovering these potatoes.”
He said that huana are bitter. Those who aren’t familiar with how to prepare them to make them palatable aren’t aware of the appropriate techniques. He defends that in times of increasing uncertainty, there are good reasons to revive huana. It resists frost, hail, extreme rain and drought. They can be stored for two or three years, more than four times as long as most other potatoes. After Incans soak huana for days and freeze it outdoors overnight to remove the bitterness, the potato can be dried and stored for years.
Working to revive huana and various Andean ancient crops, Mariano Ccaccya is the local head of Cusichaca Andina. Cusichaca Andina won a grant from the World Bank to promote ancient and resilient Andean crops including quinoa, amaranth, and different types of potatoes and squashes. With the threat of climate change, Cusichaca Andina is working toward reviving ancient methods in growing these crops.
Cusichaca Andina is also reviving Incan irrigation systems. Restoring old terraces and building new ones have a lot of benefits, according to Ccaccya. Ccaccya explains that the terraces help channel water for irrigation, hold water for months and avoid erosion.
Cusichaca Andina and other groups teach communities in Peru’s high Andes how to rebuild and use these canals. They also teach other ancient agricultural techniques. They recovered the knowledge through a combination of archaeology and exploring local traditions.
Cusichaca Andina’s founder, British archaeologist Ann Kendall likes to believe that their work may have relevance beyond the mountainous regions of Peru. After travelling to China, she saw that it also has its own system of ancient mountain terraces that Kendall believes could also be revived. China faces huge challenges from climate change and water shortages. I love their motto: “Using traditional technology to combat rural poverty in the highlands of Peru.”
While the non-profit realizes they can only make a small dent, the leadership understands that the Peruvian government has a big role to play as well and want the politicians to apply what the group is doing across all of the Andes.
I find this to be an exhilarating effort to increase the resilience and food security in Peru. Way to go!
Sources: PRI, nativevillage.org, siliconinvestor.com, YouTube, Smithsonian.com
Pumatalya weather station. Imagine you’re there. You’ve never seen a weather station, well except maybe through a camera lens, either moving or still. Maybe you’ve read authors who set scenes near weather stations. Maybe you are one of the lucky few who have actually traveled far enough away from where you call home right now to be near one.
Silverio Chiquenayra-Quispe ordinarily does two things every day. He takes care of a flock of llamas and he takes care of the Pumatalya weather station. The weather station is 12,467 feet above sea level, situated in the high plateaus of the Andes. The little town is four hours by road from the provincial capital of Cusco in Peru.
“Every morning I send the data to the municipal radio station which broadcasts an update in Spanish and Quechua [the local language],” the shepherd says.
Here, climate change is not just a distant threat but a very real problem with which indigenous communities are dealing with on a daily basis. Silverio’s efforts enhance the partnership between the Peruvian ministry of the environment and the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation (SDC). They are working together with villagers in the Pumatalya mountain village to document the accelerating greenhouse effect and the less predictable weather. There’s not as much rain as there used to be. It’s windier. The weather station was built as part of the first phase of the Climate Change Adaptation Programme (Pacc) launched by partnership.
“The changes impact the life of shepherds, despite them being used to extreme conditions. There is no longer enough water to keep the pasture in a decent state all year round nor to allow subsistence crops. With shorter, more violent showers, the degraded soil no longer stores the moisture,” says Victor Bustinza Urviola, Pacc’s deputy-co-ordinator.
Given that the models produced by Peru’s National Meteorology and Hydrology Service (Senamhi) show that these trends are going to accelerate in the coming decades, there is a lot of concern. According to their data, the eastern part of the Cusco region could see a 15% to 30% drop in rainfall by 2030.
Chiquenayra-Quispe records the temperature, rainfall and wind speed three times a day at 7am, 1pm and 5pm. He takes readings for four months a year. From his observations, he has determined that the weather changes very suddenly with unpredictable rain.
Profound changes occur for people living in the Andes, in terms of their relationship with their environment. According to Jeffrey Bury from the University of California Santa Cruz, people in the Andes take advantage of every ecological niche, but that farmers are now being squeezed by warmer temperatures that shift crops. The expansion of mountaintop mining destroys higher pastures.
Andean farmers say weather patterns are changing. The rain and frost come out of season. Weather signs they relied on to tell when it was time to till or plant are unreliable.
Agriculture depends on predictability, Bury says.
The good news is that the data collected since 2011 supports villagers’ eyewitness accounts who have been struggling with weather changes they’ve recognized over the past several years. Love that!
As they adapt and mitigate to the realities of climate change, I hope that the farmers in the Andes get the support they need to preserve their way of life. ¡Hina kachun! (That’s “good luck” or “may it be so for you” in Quechua.)
Sources: The Guardian, The Climate Message, Tiempo Inestable – El Clima y Sus Impactos, LAC Outlook(Latin America & Caribbean Outlook), Scientific American
If you’ve spent any time around farmers or ranchers, you realize that there are a lot of differing attitudes about the weather, adaptations, techniques, and property lines. Maybe the big picture and different interest groups don’t matter to someone who is worried about their heads of cattle and making sure the food productivity stays high. Except maybe it really does to the farmers that see an advantage in upgrading and not digging in their heals in keeping things just the way they are in spite of the risky business of climate, mitigation and adaptation.
I’ll get to the ‘why Ray Gaesser’ in a minute? He deserves to be acknowledged. (Ray Gaesser leads in the field and isn’t seeing knowledge and interest in agriculture as another way to minimize cross-collaborations. Intellect and experience can go hand-in-hand in helpful partnerships to improve practices in addition to recognizing the farming contributions that are being improved without demonizing the farmers.)
It’s easy to see how getting into a rural setting can make you impervious to new methods and research when you have a certain routine. However, more and more, as we tune into how methods and practices affect more than a producer in any given industry, it’s not surprising that partnerships and studies develop improvements. I would venture to state that a significant part of our experience in life is to improve on our systems and methods throughout the ages, even if it means accepting that we might not have come up with all of our own solutions alone on a piece of land in a vacuum. So many interest groups, so many missed opportunities to find the common enemy or common improvement, if you think about it.
However, let’s build a little foundation. When a farmer farms, they use tons of fertilizer. To help farmers assess how much nitrogen-based fertilizer they should use in their operations can help combat climate change.
Okay, let’s step back a minute and go back to what the hang up is. There are still people caught up intellectualizing why anyone (concerned citizen, educator, analyst, neighbor, artist, politician, business owner, or fellow farmer) would suggest that the climate changes we are experiencing now have anything to do with human activities. People still want to believe that people have to choose (like the blue pill or the red pill) between normal oscillations in temperature that have occurred over history and human activities from industries that have known flaws in waste management in our economic models? Why the false choice?
(Proactivism is best as you’ll see from Ray Gaesser.)
It’s both and unfortunately, in August, 2014, two authors had to still write an article about shedding this false choice in Farm & Ranch Guide. Why? To help people with a lot more invested in mulling it over and not taking decisive steps focus more on the fact that climate change is having a significant impact on agriculture and to move beyond the resistance. Gridlock. So the authors in the Guide walked through various scenarios, to explore the positions people are taking about whether or not climate change is real or a hoax and how much it really matters whether climate change is a result of human action or normal climate oscillation.
They determine that farmers still have more to gain and less to lose if they implement practices that would reduce emissions and increase the level of public and private investment in agriculture research. If by increasing the fuel efficiencies of farm equipment and soil mixtures, and fertilizers, farmers increase yields, decrease their fuel consumption, and reduce the total inputs required to produce a crop, the farmer stands to win as do those who rely on the food being grown. Research has benefited farmers.
Ray Gaesser farms 6,000 acre of corn and soybeans in southwest Iowa. He is part of a coalition of farmers working with big food makers to get serious about making sure that farmers apply environmental stewardship principles to their practices. Those researched improved practices include minimizing damage to water, soil and the environment. He uses no-till farming. He also terraces sloping land to prevent soil erosion. To prevent water runoff, he has grass waterways.
He believes that most farmers are willing to adopt new measures if they are shown to be beneficial to the land and water and do not reduce productivity. He is also the President of the American Soybean Association. From his perspective, they just want to make sure it’s not being done just for marketing or positioning a company in a better light for consumers, but for sincere reasons.
He is adapting to climate change. The Director of Iowa State University Climate Science Program Gene Takle claims that the weather in the Corn Belt is seeing more extremes of both too much and too little rain as the earth’s temperature rises. Gaesser would like to see more public and private research on what else farmers can do to thrive in a changing climate. Universities such as Kansas State University, MSU, and Iowa State are answering the call.
Farmers can thrive with improved soil management and fertilizer research. A MSU study that was published in June 2014 reveals improved predictions of nitrogen fertilizer’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural fields. When fertilizer rates of nitrogen exceed crop needs, nitrous oxide emissions rise faster than previously expected. Nitrous oxide is the third most important greenhouse gas that is concerning. Agriculture accounts for 80% of human-caused nitrous oxide emissions globally.
“Our specific motivation is to learn where to best target agricultural efforts to slow global warming,” said Phil Robertson, director of MSU’s Kellogg Biological Station Long-term Ecological Research Program and senior author of the paper. “Agriculture accounts for 8 to 14 percent of all greenhouse gas production globally. We’re showing how farmers can help to reduce this number by applying nitrogen fertilizer more precisely.”
That’s the type of research that can benefit the industry. The study also provided support for expanding the use of carbon credits to pay farmers for better fertilizer management. Not to mention the high costs of fertilizers.
Timely efforts given that the United Nations has announced 2015 as the International Year of Soils.
Iowa farmers are reporting that they are doing a good job in their soil and fertilizer management.
Well, that’s good news. As ASA President, he sees that it’s important that he and others in the agriculture industry come together to work toward ensuring effective and sustainable resource management.
He’s experienced the effects of climate change.
“During the last several years, we’ve seen an increase in rains that exceed 3″ per hour or dump 6″ to 8″ per day,” said Gaesser. Rain delayed planting by three weeks in 2014. “Weather has caused erosion in our no-till system where we hadn’t had it before,” he says. “We seem to be in a cycle of extreme weather.”
He uses cover crops to fight back against the erosion and retain nutrients.
“For the last four years now we’ve been testing cover crops, and every year growing just a few more because we do see the value in cover crops—particularly on our farm—for erosion control,” said Gaesser. “But we are also starting to see the soil health benefits that people are talking about.”
Gaesser was among a group of US representatives who left the farm to broaden their perspective on a recent trip to Paris for the International Oilseed Processors Dialogue to talk with oilseed producers from around the world. One of the biggest concerns was government regulation and the effects of forced reductions of fertilizer on yields.
However, Gaesser has been known to work with the Iowa On-Farm Nitrogen Network since the beginning. He found that they learned that their best soils seem to need less nitrogen, which contrasts with what the normal yield goal formulas suggest. He cut rates of nitrogen use on his acreage, which also reduced his out-of-pocket costs by $6/acre. He advises producers to examine their fertilizer application and rate of application. Farmers have a responsibility to make sure that they do not overapply nitrogen and make sure that they do it at the right time to reduce leaching.
Informed decision-making is making a difference. Higher farm income from ethanol helped him afford conservation efforts. He rotates his corn acres and has since before the fuel boom. Iowa Soybean Association has backed innovations.
The summer edition of American Soybean, published by ASA, asks subscribers to tell their conservation story to showcase their conservation efforts on their farms. Those who share their story get recognition distinguishing them for outstanding environmental and conservation practices and a trip to the Commodity Classic in Phoenix in February 2015. The evaluation is based on management of soil, water and inputs, farmstead protections, sustainable practices and overall management that leads to conservation and environmental benefits. Gaesser presides over the ASA. Way to keep rewarding great efforts!
Resources: Consumer Affairs, Agriculture.com, Reuters, MSUToday (Michigan State), Ag Professional, Farm and Ranch Guide, Bridge River Lillooet News, Iowa Soybean Review, The Food Journal, Farm Journal’s Ag Web, Brownfield Ag News, Associated Press, Farm Futures, Corn & Soybean Digest, Youtube