Kamayoq potato farmers in action

Taking advantage of one’s own property

It is November, but the land is still dry in the highlands of Sicuani, Cusco.  In the Pataccalasaya community, it should have been raining a month ago, but instead, freezing temperatures have destroyed many of the plots in which local farmers had started sowing or preparing for a good sowing season.

Zenón Quispe Palomina is 54 years old and is also suffering the consequences of the climate.  Although he could not prevent the frost destroying some of his sectors, his status as a Potato-farming Kamayoq gave him enough confidence to tackle the problem from the start.  “I only applied what I was taught and I dampened the earth a bit to prevent it from drying up”, said Don Zenón.

In the Canchis province, A Kamayoq is considered an authority.  Forty members of 16 peasant communities in this area of involvement of Practical Action received classes in 2006 so that they could increase and improve their production of native potatoes in these areas, at more than 3,800 m.a.s.l..   This is the second year that they are putting what they learnt into practice.

Even though seeds are an essential input for a good sowing season, Don Zeñón has learnt a lot more than merely putting them in the ground and waiting for the harvest.  The biol technique, a strong fertilizer with insecticide properties which he learnt to make at home, is one of the tools he is bearing in mind for this new sowing season.

“All I need is fresh cow dung, eggshells, alfalfa, milk, corn juice, ashes, plants and weeds”, the Kamayoq listed the ingredients.  The last ingredient, sugar or molasses, is provided by Practical Action, as it is neither easy to obtain nor economic.  “The rest I obtain from my own land”, said Don Zeñón.

The NGO also provides the bin in which the mixture is left to ferment for 30 days, as well as the necessary equipment to distribute the preparation, such as hoses and sprinklers.  He has fresh fertilizer ready alongside this container, also prepared beforehand with ashes, cow and sheep dung and –  as part of his own experiment – worms.

Although there are only forty Kamayoq potato farmers, more than 200 people in the community have received the benefit of native potato seeds under the Andean ‘ayny’ system of sharing.

One of these is 47 year-old Demetrio León Huantora.  “At a community level we have 10 hectares in which we are trying out this project”, he said.  He has followed the instructions of both Practical Action and the Kamayoqs of Pataccalasaya, in order to obtain a good harvest next May.  “The good thing is that we will have a variety of potatoes next year and that will increase our supply”, explained Don Demetrio.

Both of them can already see the fruits of the Yurac, Huacoto, K’achun and Ccompis species among another 160  varieties of potatoes that can be grown at this altitude.  They know when they will have to store the potatoes on a plague-free sheet and they are aware that they cannot plant new seeds in the same earth for some time as they must allow the soil to regenerate.  Don Zeñón has glanced up and seen a small rainbow in the clear sky, a popular signal of imminent rain.  Even thought they thought the opposite would occur, perhaps their sowing season will not be delayed after all.

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