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Out of the forests and into the highlands: African and Indian farmers discover holistic living in Quechua communities

Jan 22 2015   |   By: manon   |   0   |  

"When I look around, it looks just like my environment in Burundi."

Our participant from Zimbabwe adds:

"It also looks very much like Zimbabwe. This is why I believe in God, because how can it be possible that we are doing exactly the same practices in Zimbabwe, as in Burundi, as here in Peru. Someone must have taught our forefathers what to do; someone must have given a sign all around the world how to best manage our landscapes."

This was exactly the goal of the farmers exchange organized by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and Asociación ANDES. These three organizations are working together with farmer groups to promote inter-farmer learning, and exchange experiences to better understand how farmers can deal with the consequences of climate change in their daily lives. Two farmers from the Eastern Himalayas in India, two farmers from Kenya and about ten farmers from Quechua communities in the Potato Park participated.

The potato is the main crop grown in the Park and the main character of this exchange. Photocredit: Manon Koningstein (CIAT)
The potato is the main crop grown in the Park and the main character of this exchange. Photocredit: Manon Koningstein (CIAT)

The Potato Park, located in Peru’s Sacred Valley of the Incas, is an indigenous Quechua area, which is the cradle of the potato and harbors the highest in-situ diversity of native potatoes in the world. Rising temperatures and pests have forced farmers in this area to move their crops higher and higher up the “planting line” to produce the yields they need to feed their families and make a living. Shifts to higher areas in which potato crops can be viably produced are creating competition for land between potato crops and other crops and other land uses. Potato Park farmers are working with scientists from the International Potato Center (CIP) to determine how to respond to these challenges, including how the rich potato diversity used by these farmers can thrive in different ranges of the landscape.

A big focus of the daily lives of the indigenous farmers in the park is how to cope with the heightened exposure of their landscapes to negative impacts of climate change. In response to this challenge, they are developing strategies to become more resilient, by combining their rich traditional knowledge and using the area to understand, monitor and respond to current and projected levels of exposure to these climate-related sensitivities. All of this together has made these 9000 hectares of communal land into a so-called “Living Lab of Climate Change and Adaptation”, and the setting for three days of learning exchange between farmers experiencing similar problems.

With men migrating to the cities in search for work, women are often left alone with their children. Photocredit: Manon Koningstein (CIAT)
With men migrating to the cities in search for work, women are often left alone with their children. Photocredit: Manon Koningstein (CIAT)

The local farmers explained us how they live and work on site to protect the potato, one of the world’s most important staple crops, and use its diversity to prepare and counter the limits and restrictions to local adaptive capacity that climate change is bringing upon their production systems and livelihoods.

Among the three cultural groups present, the spiritual understanding of climate change worked as a guiding principle through the discussions. The Quechua farmers reach for a Sumaq Causay (‘holistic living’) being led by local knowledge and spirits. Being called ‘apus’ in Quechua, which stands for the spirits of the mountains or ‘roho’ in Swahili, which stands for the spirits that are mainly found in forests, it was clear that all find their answers in nature. The Quechua farmers expressed that the drastic changes in the climate refer to pachamama (mother earth) to be mad. The Kenyan farmer asked them whether they have asked their spirits why their climate is changing and what kind of answers she has given. Being a forestry spiritual leader himself, he finds his answers in the forest; the spirits tell him what to do with his fields and how to communicate this to his community. However, finding himself in the Peruvian Highlands, high above the tree line, where there are hardly any (native) forests or trees, he wondered where they find their answers. The Quechua farmers explained him that the mountains give those answers: the disappearing of the snow on the sacred mountains, the higher elevation of the flights of the local birds; they are all answers from pachamama to start taking care of the climate.

The exchange was a big succes with many learning experiences and time to understand the other's culture. Photocredit: Manon Koningstein (CIAT)
The exchange was a big succes with many learning experiences and time to understand the other's culture. Photocredit: Manon Koningstein (CIAT)

Valuing traditional knowledge is one of the key focal points of the park, as well as of this learning exchange: the critical contribution that traditional agricultural resource management systems provide to biodiversity conservation and to meeting climate-related national and international goals and targets is huge.

An Indian farmer from the Eastern Himalaya noted that she has been very motivated by her visit to these communities.

"I thought that we are experiencing a rough situation in my community, but when I look around in these highlands, I see that the climate is having much more consequences here. But I also see that these communities have adapted quite well, to these changes. Therefore, if they can do it, we can do it! And that is one of the main messages I want to take back to my community."

Click here to see the photos of the learning exchange

Farmers Learning Exchange organized by CCAFS, IIED and Andes.
Farmers Learning Exchange organized by CCAFS, IIED and Andes.


The Potato Park is governed by an association of six Quechua communities; the goal of this integrated landscape management approach is to increase the multi-functionality of agricultural landscapes in the face of climate change for: food production, biocultural heritage conservation, sustainable livelihood, coordination and planning, and ecosystem conservation. This approach has allowed the conservation of 1,460 varieties of native potato; 400 of these varieties come to the Park through a landmark Repatriation agreement with the International Potato Center (CIP) - the first agreement of its kind.

Originally published on

CIP Hosts Climate Change Application Contest ‘Hackathon’

Dec 19 2014   |   By: nazarov   |   0   |  

The International Potato Center (CIP) and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) hosted a 36-hour “hackathon” at CIP Headquarters in Lima, Peru to see what useful applications the programmers might fashion out of information CCAFS is continuously collecting.

Using an array of data about everything from seed varieties to future climate variables, eight teams from Colombia, Jamaica and Peru spent a weekend together on the CIP campus, sustained by sandwiches, coffee and creativity.

“It was amazing how all these programmers used the data to play with different platforms,” says Sophia Tejada Carranza, one of the members of the CIP team (the others were Elisa Salas Murrugarra, Mirella Flores Gonzalez and Raul Angel Cordova Solis). “The idea was to have all these different points of view [aimed at] trying to help the farmers.”

The CIP team hacked together an app - Trato Justo - that would help a farmer compute and receive a fair price for his crops based on their quality, regional climate conditions and other factors.

Each team – five from Peru, one each from Colombia and Jamaica – was assigned a mentor to guide it through the creation of a technical solution that could help answer a question a farmer might ask: “How can I increase my crops’ nutrient density?” or “How can I make more money from my crops?”

The data is current and rich, says Elisa Salas Murrugarra, but not usually readily accessible as it was during the hackathon. “We wanted to explore news ways to use and reuse all this information,” she explains.

“We work together [every day], but we haven’t really had the opportunity to try to improve upon our ideas” in the community setting that the hackathon provided, added Raul Angel Cordova.

Cross-fertilization of ideas from one team to the next was a key part of the event. CIP staff were assigned to each team to help facilitate that kind of exchange.

At the conclusion of the event, each team presented its idea toa jury of five specialists in agriculture, climate change and information technologies, who rated the project c based on a number of criteria including user-friendliness and innovation.

Winning first place was Colombia’s Geomelodicos with an app using Global Positioning Satellite data and regionalized climate models to maximize crop yields for farmers in Latin America. It could, however, be applied to other global regions. First prize was USD 3,000 cash. The second-place winner, Via Soluciones, was awarded USD 2,000 cash.

Whether or not a team’s idea won an award, the event generated excitement around a common cause.

“All of us were thinking about how to protect the environment,” says Murrugarra, who says that future hackathons are a distinct possibility after the success of this initial one.

More on Hackathon:

Collaborating to Improve Nutrition and Incomes in Bangladesh

Dec 18 2014   |   By: david-dudenhoefer   |   0   |  

Shawkat Begum, a Bangladeshi anthropologist who is coordinating the horticulture project, explains that it has provided training in sustainable agricultural techniques such as integrated pest management and grafting to rural men and women in four districts of Bangladesh. Those farmers are now producing improved orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) varieties and nutrient-rich vegetables. At the same time, CIP has helped Bangladeshi potato farmers to boost their production and incomes through the improvements in potato seed storage.

The four-year project, which is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Feed the Future initiative, is using potato, sweetpotato and target vegetables to improve the food security, nutrition and incomes of smallholders. To accomplish this, CIP and AVRDC have partnered with the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) and the PROSHIKA Centre for Human Development. Scientists at the US universities Virginia State University and University of California Davis have contributed to the project’s integrated pest management and potato storage components.

There is great need for such interventions in rural Bangladesh, where many families don’t own enough land to grow the food they need and malnutrition rates are among the world’s highest. Sweetpotato is an excellent option for those farmers, since it grows quickly and can produce a lot of calories in a small area, even in marginal soils. The orange-fleshed sweetpotato varieties that the project has distributed have the advantage of being high in iron and beta-carotene, which the body turns into vitamin A. And the plant’s leaves are also nutritious, which has led to a growing popularity of sweetpotato-leaf curry in the four districts.

The goal of the four-year project is to reach 100,000 households by September 2015, and significant progress has been made in 2014. The implementing partners are in the process of reaching 39,000 households in 2014, which will bring the total number of beneficiaries during the project’s first three years to 69,000. Given the multiplying effect of the project’s train-the-trainer approach, it is well on track to meet its goal.

The horticulture project not only addresses such widespread problems as poverty and vitamin A deficiency in children, it also has a strong gender strategy. Bangladeshi inheritance laws and traditions have left most of the country’s women land poor, so the project provides training to groups of women in productive activities that require very little land, such as such as home gardens, and the production of grafted tomato or eggplant seedlings or sweet potato vine cuttings (planting material) for sale. Almost half of the project’s participants to date are female, and the training and assistance they’ve received has improved their families’ diets and incomes while helping them to take more control of their lives.

Begum, the project’s Chief of Party, is quite familiar with the limitations that rural women face in her country. She explains that women beneficiaries have told her that the intervention helped them to gain more respect from their husbands and community members.

“I personally did case studies on vine multiplication with women who told me that they never felt like they would have ownership over anything, but they now feel like their lives have meaning, and they can tell their husbands that they have earned their own income,” Begum said. “That is really motivating.”

Bangladesh Horticulture Project

One such woman, Jogun, from the Chowgachha area of Jessore district, explained that since receiving training from the project, she has grown sweetpotatoes for her family and neighbors and has earned income from the sale of planting material.

“We regularly eat sweetpotato leaves and roots,” she said. “My grandchildren like sweetpotato and they are eating it regularly. I hope that this makes them healthy.”

Jogun explained that she grew enough sweetpotato vines on five decimals (approx 200 sq. meters) of land in five months to earn 5,000 taka (approx. US$65), which she used to improve her family’s diet and to purchase a goat. She added that she intends to sell the goat when it is grown, and hopes to have enough money to buy a cow.

“Women in my village are taking interest and approaching me to learn vine multiplication. I have helped them, and now they are helping others. This simple technology is spreading in my village,” Jogun said.

The horticulture project’s impact has likewise spread beyond the communities it works with directly. CIP has also contributed to a project led by WorldFish called Aquaculture for Income and Nutrition. CIP provided Worldfish with sweetpotato vine cuttings, which are used as planting material, so that the organization could promote sweetpotato production among participants in the aquaculture project. The horticulture project also contributed 20 metric tones of sweetpotato roots to a factory that is producing baby food from fish, rice, sweetpotato and rice.

Begum explained that she has witnessed plenty of success stories since the horticulture project was launched. She citied a group of landless women in Barisal who the project trained in vine multiplication and who managed to produce enough vines in area’s behind their homes to earn about $130 per member in eight months – money they spent on such essentials as milk and school supplies for their children.

“I really find this job enjoyable,” Begum said. “When you see women following innovative approaches, or when you give them a way to generate their own income and attain a different role in their community, that is very rewarding.”

The Reaching Agents of Change Training of Trainers (TOT) Courses – Photostory

Dec 16 2014   |   By: godfrey-mulongo-hilda-munyua   |   0   |  

For three years, hundreds of participants in Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana and Burkina Faso benefited from an annual Training of Trainers (ToT) course called ‘Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Sweetpotato.’ The course was one of the main activities implemented by the Reaching Agents of Change (RAC) Project (2011-2014). RAC aims to increase investment in orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) to combat vitamin A deficiency among young children and women of reproductive age. RAC also seeks to build the capacity of public sector extension and non-governmental organizational personnel to effectively implement initiatives aimed at promoting the dissemination and appropriate use of vitamin A-rich OFSP. The course was implemented by the International Potato Center and Helen Keller International in partnership with three national host institutions – Sokoine University of Agriculture - Tanzania, Eduardo Mondlane University – Mozambique, and the Agricultural and Rural Management Training Institute - Nigeria. This photostory highlights the objectives and content, target group, training methodology and step-down process of the course. It also emphasizes the institutionalization of the course, impact and sustainability strategies of future courses. The implementers call upon development partners to sponsor participants to take part in this annual course.

To see the Photostory in fullscreen click here

The Papa Andina experience: No small potatoes

Dec 09 2014   |   By: nazarov   |   0   |  

In 2000, “the goal of the program was to see how we can help small-scale farmers here in the Andes” bring thousands of little-known Peruvian roots and tubers to market, says Devaux’s CIP’s regional director for Latin America. The potato crop, in particular native potatoes or landraces, as well as centuries of traditional knowledge around how best to cultivate them, “are assets these farmers have. Our challenge was this: how do we transform this asset into a business opportunity? How can we bring them to market and make them attractive to consumers?”

Devaux described the process he and the rest of the CIP team developed to try to reach these goals. Members of the “value chain” – from farmers who grew more than 3,000 varieties of native potato, to processors who would convert them into ready-to-eat snacks, to the consumers who would buy those snacks – were identified, and various innovative potato-cooking recipes explored with a number of chefs and cooking schools.

Papa Andina

The crops in question grow in a range of brilliant hues, red and blue, orange and yellow, he says. “We evaluated how they would perform when cooked in oil, and we got these fantastic potato chips.” A combination of five or six different-colored chips, salted and packaged into individual servings, became a popular item among tourists browsing in duty-free shops in the Lima airport. “People tended to buy them more as a souvenir than as a snack.”

More products followed, such as blends of colorful potatoes coveted by chefs and home cooks alike. Not every product under the Papa Andina initiative succeeded, such as mashed potatoes made with the colorful crops. Yet no effort was wasted, Devaux contends.

Papa Andina

“For CIP, [Papa Andina] was a way to align research activity with development needs,” he says.

Other organizations have since imitated CIP’s efforts in terms of bringing products generated by these crops to a broader marketplace. “Our idea [in launching Papa Andina] was good – but it was very small,” Devaux says. “To have it copied by others in a process we called ‘creative imitation’ has allowed the idea to grow.” To this day CIP continues to provide research support to organizations who seek to bring new Andean potato-based products to market, even some large companies who initially rejected the concept due to its small scale. “Once they saw the market was developing for these products, they came back to us,” Devaux says.

Papa Andina

Several key changes have occurred in the wake of the program, Devaux notes. For one thing, “these potatoes had not been part of the national potato variety list” administered by Peru’s Ministry of Agriculture – and until they were on that list, their seeds could not formally be made virus free by to produce a healthy stock of quality seed . They have since been placed on that list, and a national holiday declared, May 30, National Potato Day, celebrated nationwide. “All of this gives more visibility to these potatoes and promotes their consumption.

Data gathered over the course of Papa Andina tells Devaux and the rest of the CIP staff who were involved in the project revealed measureable changes in the way native potatoes are marketed and sold at national and international levels - thereby increasing the demand for the potatoes and the,price they command. That data has also informed similar efforts in Boliva, Ecuador and other countries.

Papa Andina

A less tangible but no less important benefit is the sense of national pride now felt by Peruvians as their unique native potatoes find a way to the tables of consumers around the globe.