Mending the Pacha

Climate change has wreaked havoc in Peru, but harmony is being restored as people rediscover traditional agriculture, writes Anna Lau

May 7, 2010 · 3 min read

Two figures quietly amble through the near-empty fields that line the western shores of Lake Titicaca, the vast blue expanse that stretches across the Peruvian border province of Puno into Bolivia. The air is crisp, filled with nothing but the sound of the wind and the odd sprightly greeting by man, sheep and, occasionally, from a distance, minibus. The passer-by might suspect that life here has remained essentially unchanged for centuries.

Melvis points to a patch of potato plants to my left, and comments that the flowers are blue. This is the first sign that something is amiss. It is early December, only the beginning of the warmer, rainy season – they should not be showing themselves yet.

Melvis, a 19-year-old amateur radio DJ, has returned from university to the lakeside community of Cruzpata. Cruzpata is part of Suma Yapu (‘beautiful field’), one of 20 Nuclei of Cultural Affirmation (NACAs) that constitute the Andean Project for Peasant Technologies (PRATEC). PRATEC was created in 1987 after its founders spent three decades working within the development field, concluding that development professionals entirely dismiss the Andean idea of Sumak Kawsay (‘good living’). NACAs accompany communities across Peru, collectively assessing climate and community changes.

There is no doubt the climate has changed here. In recent years the rainy season has become erratic. Often there are droughts. As you read this, storms induced by El Niño have caused rivers to flood, carrying livestock away and devastating crops. People in badly affected areas have no food, seeds have been lost and houses are falling down.

The disarray of nature’s rhythms imperils an Andean agriculture that traditionally depended on conversation with the pacha (life-zones) in which both climate and humans, as members of the ayllu (extended family), play a role. PRATEC member Jorge Ishizawa notes the feeling that the tourist industry has become greedy, disrespecting Pachamama (Mother Earth). The floods are her response.

According to Don Mateo Mamani, elder from the community of Vizcachani, the fox had always ‘advised us when to sow and…on the production of the year’ and the lizards ‘of the occurrence of frosts.’ Now ‘other signs have appeared.’ Deer, joskas (tragacanth), wild relatives of the turnip with yellow flowers come and ‘we do not know what they want to tell us.’ The floods are another hard-to-read sign.

PRATEC communities have spent decades affirming Andean practices of agriculture and conservation, medicine, governance and education. They incorporate the agro-festive calendar into schools, teaching children to respect the apus (mountain deities) and learn what different plants and animals tell them. They nurture school fields and learn to cook foods based on nutritious, diverse crops, rather than bought produce like rice and pasta.

Since the floods, Eliana Apaza of Suma Yapu NACA is concerned that although Andean communities have a tradition of reciprocity, many may still be at risk in the coming winter season without sufficient food, seeds and materials. Their situation is exacerbated by unstable glacial melt, along with open-cast mines, threatening the high pastures containing the greatest wild biodiversity in the mountains – wild plants that can provide during failed harvests.

The collective wisdom of these communities contains an abundance of eco-systemic knowledge that scientists can only dream of. As PRATEC’s founder, the late Eduardo Grillo, pointed out, the Andeans’ 10,000 year old conversation with their environment means to ‘dance to the rhythm which at every moment corresponds to the annual cycle of life’. It is how the disarray in the pacha that humans have caused may be repaired.



Photo of Boris with his hand on his head

The crisis of Conservatism

The Conservative Party is in a process of ideological decline or even disintegration, argue James Butler and Richard Seymour.

photo of people marching with placards

Patients’ rights have no borders

As a US-friendly no-deal Brexit inches closer, Bonnie Castillo of National Nurses United explains why US nurses have joined the fight against NHS privatisation. Recommended reading ahead of The World Transformed health sessions

A still from the film Bait

Film review: Bait and switch

Alex McDonald reviews new British film Bait, a socially engaged drama that uses lyricism to devastating effect.


Photo of the the Houses of Parliament over the river

It’s time the UK had real democracy

Under the UK’s constitutional monarchy, we are subjects not citizens. Rewriting the constitution should be an urgent priority for a Labour government, argues Hilary Wainwright

protestors march with red banner saying stop tory brexit

No shock doctrine for Britain: Stop Boris Johnson

Director of Global Justice Now, Nick Dearden, calls for swift action to stop Boris Johnson shutting down Parliament

The Harland and Wolff workers want to make renewable energy. A Labour government would help them

In the 1970s, Lucas Aerospace workers had a plan to make socially useful products and went to minister for industry Tony Benn for help. Do the workers occupying their shipyard in Belfast have a similar ally in John McDonnell? By Hilary Wainwright