Sebastian Alanya Sotocuro: Advice for the next generation

Sebastián Alanya Sotocuro, 82
More than 70 varieties
Castillapata, Yauli, Huancavelica

“In the past, we used to plant potatoes all year long. But in the last few years, we have seen how our sacred earth is suffering: by using chemical fertilizers and insecticides we have contaminated all the microorganisms in the soil. The land is contaminated, and so it no longer produces as it should on the farms where we used to plant our potatoes. But on our laymes (communal lands) where we let the earth rest, there we produce as usual. But we’re producing less and less, because the air itself is contaminated. It’s not like before. Our production has changed a lot. I’m worried because in the past, without even having to apply any product, I used to harvest healthy and hearty potatoes.  But now I can’t even plant on the same land where I once harvested.

My recommendation for the next generation is that if they want to have a good (potato) production, they should make compost. You have to gather everything that’s organic; you can even use excrement and urine and have it ferment along with the compost. We need to teach the children and future grandchildren so that they’ll be able to follow our customs too, and not rely on chemicals.

Making compost, and having lots of varieties of native potatoes: that’s how we defend ourselves against hunger. Potatoes do better in chaqru (a traditional way of cultivating different native potatoes in random mixtures in a single plot, rather than solely concentrating on planting a single variety).

In the old days, we used to put crosses in the laymes. We rested our land every five years. We would set up crosses in the laymes, and in our rituals, we would go down with our crosses making a pagapu (a traditional offering), a payment to the Apus (holy mountains), which protected our native potato production well.  For our festivities we would joyfully bring the cross down with us and then take it back to the Sierra at planting time.”