Lately Eltsyn Uchuypoma has been waking up at four in the morning, eager to reach the native potato plots in the highland districts of Paucará and Yauli in Peru’s department of Huancavelica, at the heart of the Chopcca nation. Uchuypoma is doing an internship with Yanapai, a non-governmental organization (NGO) which collaborates with the International Potato Center (CIP), along with participation of the locals, to select new potato varieties that are resistant to late blight while still preserving their nutrients and flavor. They also promote the backyard farming of guinea-pigs and poultry for home consumption, to ensure nutritious food for the children. Yanapai and CIP both contribute to the Chirapaq Ñan (Quechua for “Rainbow Route”) initiative. Chirapaq Ñan is a network of micro-centers with a high diversity of native potatoes for the systematic monitoring of the state of conservation of the varieties over time and in their natural environment.
Eltsyn studies Agronomy at the Universidad Nacional Agraria of La Molina, in Lima. “I am here because I’m very interested in scientific research, especially in the area of genetic resources,” he says. Continuing with conviction, Eltsyn adds: “It intrigues me to learn more and more about agriculture in Peru, and to travel from corner to corner of our country. Part of an agronomist’s training is to become familiar with the problems and the advantages of every community or agricultural region. One of my ambitions is to get to know the abundant genetic wealth of this beautiful country. I’m on my way there, and I know that in a few years’ time my dream will come true.”
Eltsyn has always wanted to know the social and agricultural reality of the communities in Huancavelica. “I knew that many people continued to practice biodynamic farming with predictions based on nature, such as reading the phases of the moon and their effect on rainfall. Added to this was my personal interest in getting to know one of the “hotspots” of the native potatoes. So I was doubly motivated to apply for an internship with Yanapai and Chirapaq Ñan,” he says.
Eltsyn is currently working on the morphological characterization of native potatoes in nine communities in Huancavelica. He describes his daily activities: “We go out every day at about 5 a.m. to ensure an early arrival at the plots, which are at elevations ranging from 3,800 to 4,300 meters above sea level. To get to the plots, on average, we have to travel for two to three hours and then walk uphill from 30 minutes to an hour. We get back to the community station of Ccasapata at around 6 p.m.” There can be some unscheduled journeys depending on the weather. For example, “If there’s been a hailstorm in any of our plot areas, we go out the next morning to see how much damage there has been and to decide what needs to be done to recover our fields,” he explains.
Eltsyn talks about the joys of his internship. He was excited to find plots already in flower in Pumaranra and Paccho Molina, and expresses his satisfaction at working with the Chirapaq Ñan initiative. “I am grateful to belong to such an important initiative. Not only does it monitor the state of conservation of the varieties, but it also recognizes the work of the potato custodians , and has formed a network linking the custodian peasant communities, public and private institutions, and international organizations working in the different micro-centers.”
Eltsyn highlights that “Chirapaq Ñan has not only succeeded in establishing the Huancavelica micro-center , but it has also raised awareness about the importance of preserving the genetic heritage of the native potato varieties found within these communities. In every community I have managed to visit, they express satisfaction with Chirapaq Ñan and in knowing that things are moving in the right direction with the support of institutions, NGOS, and the people.”
Alberto Lanazca’s plot containing 58 varieties of native potatoes
In Pumaranra, Pepe Escobar Acevedo’s plot that has 129 varieties of native potatoes
In the early morning, at Zenon Perez’s plot, assessing the damage done by the hailstorm in Pumaranra
In the background you can see the crop rotation system that is used in almost all communities: the potato crop is followed by barley or oats
Elberto Montes’s plot of 42 different native potatoes in Huachua