"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 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)
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)
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."
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 ccafs.cgiar.org