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Native potatoes September 11th, 2022 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

Peru’s native potatoes are a living treasure of 4,000 varieties that come in red, purple, yellow and black. Round or long, smooth or knobby, each one is different, and tasty. But for years, city people ignored the native potato, considered to be the inferior food of poor people.

Some farmers and their allies are fighting to keep the native potato alive. Over 20 years ago, Peruvian agronomist Raúl Ccanto was one of the people who realized that native potatoes could survive, if people in the city would buy them.

A brand name was created, Mishki Papa—roughly translating as “tasty potato”, and the little tubers were displayed in a net bag, so customers could see their unique beauty. To produce the potatoes, 50 farmers were organized into the newly created Association of the Guardians of Native Potatoes of Peru (Aguapan).

I told Raúl that I used to buy these potatoes at an upscale supermarket when I lived in Peru in 2010. Raúl explained that Aguapan was no longer selling through the supermarket, which would only pay for the potatoes two weeks after they had taken delivery and would return any unsold ones, paying the farmers only 1.30 soles (about 30 cents of a dollar), while charging customers 4.30 soles. Perhaps most discouraging, the supermarket only accepted three or four varieties of potatoes, while farmers grew dozens. As Raúl explained, if consumers only bought four varieties, the others would still be endangered.

In recent years, two European farmers’ organizations (Agrico and HZCP) have each given Aguapan 15,000 Euros to help them market potatoes. Paul and Marcella and I visited the president of Aguapan, Elmer Chávez, while he harvested native potatoes with his family in the village of Vista Alegre, in Huancavelica, at 3,900 meters above sea level (12,800 feet). At this staggering altitude, where we struggled just to breathe and walk at the same time, the Chávez family was hard at work, carefully unearthing each variety..

From each of the 80 varieties, the family saves five potatoes as seed for next year. The rest are to eat at home and to sell. The family works hard against a deadline. We were there on a Friday, and on Monday morning don Elmer had to be at a trucking company in Huancayo, 30 km away, to ship half a ton of potatoes.

In Lima, representatives of Yanapai (an NGO that collaborates with Aguapan) will receive the potatoes, advertise them on social media, keep them in a warehouse and take orders from individual customers. On the following Friday, the potatoes will be sold in two-kilo net bags, with as many as 18 varieties in each little sack. Raúl explains that this is called a chaqru (from the Quechua word for “mix”). Each farm family produces its own special mix, selected over the years to have the same cooking time, and to combine nicely on the plate.

To promote the potatoes, Yanapai has made a catalog of the varieties and a booklet describing individual farmers and the unique mix of potatoes that each one has.

As agronomist Edgar Olivera of Yanapai explains, the delivery service still requires some financial and technical support, but the hope is that one day it will be self-sustaining. Many farmers have grown children who now live in the big, capital city of Lima. Some of the children of farmers may one day be able to earn money selling the native potatoes from their home villages, turning the gem-like potatoes of their parents into a real source of income for the families who nurture them.

Further reading

Ministerio de Agricultura y Riego (MINAGRI); Grupo Yanapai; Instituto Nacional de Innovación Agraria (INIA); Centro Internacional de la Papa (CIP). 2017. Catálogo de variedades de papa nativa del sureste del departamento de Junín – Perú. Lima. Centro Internacional de la Papa. ISBN 978-92-9060-208-8. 228 p. https://cgspace.cgiar.org/handle/10568/89110

Related Agro-Insight blogs

Native potatoes, tasty and vulnerable

Potato marmalade

Making farmers anonymous

Watch the video:

Recovering Native Potatoes

Acknowledgements

The visit to Peru to film various farmer-to-farmer training videos, including this one, was made possible with the kind support of the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP) of the McKnight Foundation. Thanks to Edgar Olivera, Raúl Ccanto, Jhon Huaraca and colleagues of the Grupo Yanapai for introducing us to the farmers of Aguapan and for sharing their knowledge with us.

PAPAS NATIVAS

Por Jeff Bentley, 11 de septiembre del 2022

Las papas nativas de Perú son un tesoro vivo de 4.000 variedades, entre rojas, moradas, amarillas y negras. Redondas o largas, lisas o nudosas, cada una es diferente, y sabrosa. Pero durante años, la gente de la ciudad ignoró la papa nativa, considerada como el alimento inferior de los pobres.

Algunos agricultores y sus aliados luchan por mantener viva la papa nativa. Hace más de 20 años, el ingeniero agrónomo peruano Raúl Ccanto era una de las personas que se dieron cuenta de que la papa nativa podía sobrevivir si la gente de la ciudad la compraba.

Se creó una marca, Mishki Papa—que se traduce aproximadamente como “papa sabrosa”— y los pequeños tubérculos se presentaban en una bolsa de red para que los clientes pudieran apreciar su belleza. Para producir las papas, 50 agricultores se organizaron en la recién creada Asociación Nacional de Guardianes de la Papa Nativa de Perú (Aguapan).

Le dije a Raúl que yo solía comprar estas papas en un supermercado bien surtido cuando vivía en Perú en 2010. Raúl me explicó que Aguapan ya no vendía a través del supermercado, que sólo pagaba las papas dos semanas después de recibirlas y devolvía las que no se vendían, pagando a los agricultores sólo 1,30 soles (unos 30 centavos de dólar), mientras que cobraba a los clientes 4,30 soles. Lo más desalentador es que el supermercado sólo aceptaba tres o cuatro variedades de papas, mientras que los agricultores cultivaban docenas. Como explicó Raúl, si los consumidores sólo compraran cuatro variedades, las demás seguirían en peligro de extinción.

En los últimos años, dos organizaciones europeas de agricultores (Agrico y HZCP) han dado a Aguapan 15.000 euros cada una para ayudarles a comercializar las papas. Paul, Marcella y yo visitamos al presidente de Aguapan, Elmer Chávez, mientras cosechaba papas nativas con su familia en el pueblo de Vista Alegre, en Huancavelica, a 3.900 metros sobre el nivel del mar. A esta increíble altitud, en la que nos costaba respirar y caminar al mismo tiempo, la familia Chávez se entusiasmaba de desenterrar cuidadosamente cada variedad.

De cada una de las 80 variedades, la familia guarda cinco papas como semilla para el próximo año. El resto son para la olla o para la venta. La familia trabaja duro con un plazo límite. Estuvimos allí un viernes, y el lunes por la mañana don Elmer tenía que estar en una empresa de transportes de Huancayo, a 30 km, para enviar media tonelada de papas.

En Lima, los representantes de Yanapai (una ONG que colabora con Aguapan) recibirán las papas, las anunciarán en las redes sociales, las guardarán en un almacén y tomarán los pedidos de los clientes particulares. El viernes siguiente, las papas se venderán en bolsas de red de dos kilos, con hasta 18 variedades en cada pequeño saco. Raúl explica que esto se llama chaqru (de la palabra quechua para “mezcla”). Cada familia campesina produce su propia mezcla especial, seleccionada a lo largo de los años para que tenga el mismo tiempo de cocción, y para que combine bien en el plato.

Para promocionar sus papas, Yanapai ha publicado un catálogo de las variedades y un folleto en el que se describe a cada agricultor y la mezcla única de papas que tiene cada persona.

Como explica el ingeniero Edgar Olivera, de Yanapai, el servicio de entrega aún requiere cierto apoyo financiero y técnico, pero la esperanza es que algún día sea autosuficiente. Muchos agricultores tienen hijos mayores que ahora viven en la ciudad capital de Lima, y es posible que algunos de ellos puedan algún día ganar dinero vendiendo las papas nativas de sus pueblos de origen, convirtiendo esta riqueza genética en una fuente de ingresos para las familias que la cultiva.

Lectura adicional

Ministerio de Agricultura y Riego (MINAGRI); Grupo Yanapai; Instituto Nacional de Innovación Agraria (INIA); Centro Internacional de la Papa (CIP). 2017. Catálogo de variedades de papa nativa del sureste del departamento de Junín – Perú. Lima. Centro Internacional de la Papa. ISBN 978-92-9060-208-8. 228 p. https://cgspace.cgiar.org/handle/10568/89110

Previamente en el blog de Agro-Insight

Papas nativas, deliciosas y vulnerables

Mermelada de papa

Making farmers anonymous

Vea el video:

Recuperemos las Papas Nativas

Agradecimiento

Nuestra visita al Perú para filmar varios videos, incluso este, fue posible gracias al generoso apoyo del Programa Colaborativo de Investigación de Cultivos (CCRP) de la Fundación McKnight. Gracias a Edgar Olivera, Raúl Ccanto, Jhon Huaraca y colegas del Grupo Yanapai por presentarnos a los miembros de Aguapan y por compartir su conocimiento con nosotros.

Staying grounded while on the air in Ghana March 21st, 2021 by

It’s a simple matter to play a soundtrack about farming on the radio. The tricky part is making sure that the program connects with the audience, as I learned recently from Gideon Kwame Sarkodie Osei at ADARS FM, a commercial station in Kintampo, a town in central Ghana.

Since 2010 Gideon has been pleased to be part of an effort by Farm Radio International (FRI) that supported radio stations in Ghana, including ADARS FM, to reach out to farmers. With encouragement from FRI, Gideon started a weekly magazine show for farmers, where he plays Access Agriculture audio tracks. The magazine, Akuafo Mo, means “Thank You Farmers” in the Twi language. Before he started the show, Gideon (together with FRI) did a baseline study of the farmers in his audience. He found that they had more time on Monday evenings. Farm women do more work and have less time than most people, but they told Gideon that they were usually done with their chores by 8 PM, so that’s when he airs Akuafo Mo, every Monday for an hour.

The show starts with recorded interviews, where farmers explain their own knowledge of a certain topic, like aflatoxin, which is so important that Gideon had several episodes on this hidden toxin that can contaminate stored foodstuffs. After the interviews, Gideon plays an audio track, to share fresh ideas with his audience. Gideon has played Access Agriculture audios so often he can’t remember how many he has played. “It’s a lot more than 50,” he explains.

Gideon plays a portion of the audio in English, and then he stops to translate that part into Twi, the language of the Ashanti people. Every week there is a guest on the show, an extension agent who can discuss the topic and take questions from listeners who call in.

Gideon’s experience with the magazine inspired him to start listener groups, in coordination with FRI. Visiting listener communities, Gideon found that some did not have a radio set. So, with project support, he bought them one. “We give them radio sets so they can come together weekly and listen to the magazine,” Gideon told me. He has 20 groups, each with 12 to 30 people. Five groups are only for women, especially in areas where males and females don’t casually mingle. The other listener groups have men and women.

Gideon visits at least some of the groups every week. Because of these visits, Gideon is now downloading videos as well as audio from Access Agriculture. “Sometimes I see if they have electricity, and I rent a projector, to show them the video they have heard on the air.” Gideon says. “This is my initiative, going the extra mile.”

Some of the farmers are learning to sell their groundnuts, maize and other cereals as a group, netting them extra money and helping them to be self-sustaining.

Gideon is also a trainer for FRI. Before Covid, he would travel to other towns and cities in Ghana, meet other broadcasters, and go to the field with them to show them how to improve their interview skills and to craft their own magazine shows. Now he continues to train broadcasters, but online.

Working with the farmer listening groups gives Gideon insights into farmers’ needs and knowledge, making his magazine so authentic that 60,000 people tune in. That experience gives Gideon the confidence to train other broadcasters all over Ghana.

When I was in Ghana a few years ago, I met excellent extension agents who told me how frustrated they were to be responsible for reaching 3,000 farmers. It was impossible to have a quality interaction with all those farmers.

However, there are ways to communicate a thoughtful message with a large audience, for example with a good radio magazine.

Gideon has creatively blended his own expertise with resources from two communication-oriented non-profit organisations: Farm Radio International and Access Agriculture. Hopefully, his experience will inspire other broadcasters.

Videos in the languages of Ghana

Find videos and soundtracks in these languages of Ghana: Buli, Dagaari, Dagbani, Ewe, Frafra, Gonja, Hausa, Kabyé, Kusaal, Moba, Sisaala, Twi, Zarma and English.

Earthworms from India to Bolivia March 29th, 2020 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

A few weeks ago, I met a young Bolivian journalist, Edson Rodríguez, who works on an environmental program at the university (UMSS) television channel in Cochabamba called TVU. He helps to produce a show called Granizo Blanco (white hail), a dramatic name in this part of the Andes, where hail can devastate crops in a moment. The show covers all environmental issues, not just agriculture. For example, the program recently featured mud slides that have destroyed homes, and the impacts of a new metro train system in the valley.

I first met Edson in the field, where he was filming the tree seedling distribution that I wrote about earlier in this blog. Later, I told him about the agroecological videos on Access Agriculture.

Edson wondered if some of the videos on Access Agriculture might be suitable for the TV show. After watching some of the videos, he downloaded one on making compost with earthworms. The video was filmed in India, and it had recently been translated into Spanish, crucial for making videos more widely available. Without a Spanish version it wouldn’t be possible to consider showing a video from Maharashtra in Cochabamba. The two places are physically far apart, but they have much in common, such as a semi-arid climate, and small farms that produce crop residues and other organic waste that can be turned into compost.

Edson asked me to take part in an episode of Granizo Blanco that included a short interview followed by a screening of the compost and earthworm video. He was curious to know why Access Agriculture promotes videos of farmers in one country to show to smallholders elsewhere. I said that the farmers may differ in their skin color, clothing and hair styles, but they are working on similar problems. For example, farmers worldwide are struggling with crops contaminated with aflatoxins, poisons produced by fungi on improperly dried products like peanuts and maize.

I told Edson that farmer learning videos filmed in Bolivia are being used elsewhere. My colleagues and I made a video on managing aflatoxins in groundnuts, originally in Spanish, but since been translated into English, French and various African languages. The same aflatoxin occurs in Bolivia and in Burkina Faso, so African farmers can benefit from experience in South America. In this case the video shows simple ways to reduce aflatoxins in food, using improved drying and storage techniques developed by Bolivian scientists and farmers in Chuquisaca.

“What other kinds of things can Bolivian farmers learn from their peers in other countries?” Edson asked me, as he realized that good ideas can flow in both directions. I explained that soil fertility is a problem in parts of Bolivia and elsewhere; Access Agriculture has videos on cover crops, compost, conservation agriculture and may other ways to improve the soil, all freely available for programs such as Granizo Blanco to screen.

Many older people, especially those who work for governments, feel that videos have to be made in each country, and cannot be shared across borders. This closed vision makes little sense. The same civil servants happily organize and attend international conferences on agriculture and many other topics to share their own ideas across borders. If government functionaries can gain insights from foreign peers, farmers should be able to do so as well.

Fortunately, younger people like Edson are able to see the importance of media, such as learning videos that enable farmers to share knowledge and experience cross-culturally. Smallholders can swap ideas and stimulate innovations as long as the sound track is translated into a language they understand. It costs much less to translate a video than to make one.

Related blog

The right way to distribute trees

Translate to innovate

Aflatoxin videos for farmers

Related videos

Making a vemicompost bed (The earthworm video from India)

Managing aflatoxins in groundnuts during drying and storage

See also the links to soil conservation videos at the end of last week’s story: A revolution for our soil

Acknowledgment

The McKnight Foundation has generously funded many video translations, including the earthworm video, besides the filming of the aflatoxin video and its translation into several languages. For many years, SDC has offered crucial support that enabled Access Agriculture to become a global leader in South-South exchange through quality farmer-to-farmer training videos.

LOMBRICES DE TIERRA DE LA INDIA A BOLIVIA

Por Jeff Bentley 29 de marzo del 2020

Hace unas semanas conocí a un joven periodista boliviano, Edson Rodríguez, que trabaja en un programa de medio ambiente en el canal de televisión, TVU, de la Universidad (UMSS) en Cochabamba. Él ayuda a producir un programa llamado Granizo Blanco, un nombre dramático en esta parte de los Andes, donde el granizo puede arrasar los cultivos en un momento. El programa cubre todos los temas ambientales, no sólo la agricultura. Por ejemplo, el programa recientemente presentó los deslizamientos de mazamorra que han destruido varias casas, y los impactos de un nuevo sistema de tren metropolitano en el valle.

Conocí a Edson por primera vez en el campo, donde él estaba filmando la distribución de plantines de árboles, el tema de un blog previo. Más tarde, le hablé de los videos agroecológicos en Access Agriculture.

Edson se preguntaba si algunos de los videos de Access Agriculture podrían servir para el programa de televisión. Después de ver algunos de los videos, descargó uno sobre cómo hacer abono con lombrices de tierra. El vídeo se filmó en la India y recientemente se había traducido al español, lo que era imprescindible para hacer los vídeos más disponibles. Sin una versión en español sería imposible mostrar un video de Maharashtra en Cochabamba. Los dos lugares están físicamente alejados, pero tienen mucho en común, como un clima semiárido y pequeñas granjas que producen residuos de cultivos y otros desechos orgánicos que pueden convertirse en abono.

Edson me pidió que participara en un episodio de Granizo Blanco que incluía una breve entrevista seguida de una proyección del vídeo de lombricultura. Él quería saber por qué Access Agriculture promueve videos de los agricultores de un país para mostrarlos a los campesinos de otros países. Dije que los agricultores pueden diferir en el color de su piel, su ropa y peinado, pero están trabajando en problemas similares. Por ejemplo, hay agricultores de todo el mundo que luchan con la contaminación de aflatoxinas, venenos producidos por hongos en productos mal secados como el maní y el maíz.

Expliqué que los videos filmados con agricultores en Bolivia se están usando en otros países. Mis colegas y yo hicimos un video sobre el manejo de las aflatoxinas en el maní, originalmente en español, pero luego se ha traducido al inglés, al francés y a varios idiomas africanos. La misma aflatoxina se produce en Bolivia y en Burkina Faso, por lo que los agricultores africanos pueden beneficiarse de la experiencia en América del Sur. En este caso, el vídeo muestra formas sencillas de reducir las aflatoxinas en los alimentos secos, desarrolladas por científicos y agricultores bolivianos en Chuquisaca.

“¿Qué otro tipo de cosas pueden aprender los agricultores bolivianos de sus homólogos de otros países?” Edson me preguntó, al darse cuenta de que las buenas ideas pueden fluir en ambas direcciones. Le expliqué que la fertilidad del suelo es un problema en algunas partes de Bolivia y que afecta a muchos otros agricultores en otros lugares; Access Agriculture tiene videos sobre cultivos de cobertura, compost, agricultura de conservación y muchas otras técnicas para mejorar el suelo, todos disponibles gratuitamente para que programas como Granizo Blanco los proyecten.

Muchas personas mayores, especialmente las que trabajan para los gobiernos, consideran que los videos tienen que hacerse en cada país y no pueden compartirse a través de las fronteras. Esta visión cerrada tiene poco sentido. Los mismos funcionarios públicos organizan y asisten con gusto a conferencias internacionales sobre agricultura y diversos temas para compartir sus propias ideas a través de las fronteras. Si los funcionarios del gobierno pueden obtener ideas de sus colegas extranjeros, los agricultores también deberían poder hacerlo.

Afortunadamente, los jóvenes como Edson ven la importancia de los medios de comunicación, como los vídeos, que permiten a los agricultores compartir conocimientos y experiencias entre culturas. Los pequeños agricultores pueden intercambiar ideas y estimular innovaciones siempre que la banda sonora se traduzca a un idioma que entiendan. Cuesta mucho menos traducir un video que hacer uno.

Historias relacionadas del blog

La manera correcta de distribuir los árboles

Translate to innovate

Aflatoxin videos for farmers

Videos relacionados

Hacer una lombricompostera (el video de la lombriz de tierra de la India)

Manejo de aflatoxinas en maní (también disponible en quechua y en aymara)

Vea también los enlaces a los videos de conservación del suelo al final de la historia de la semana pasada: Una revolución para nuestro suelo

Agradecimiento

La Fundación McKnight ha financiado generosamente muchas traducciones de video, incluyendo el video de la lombriz, además de la filmación del video de la aflatoxina y su traducción a varios idiomas. Durante muchos años, la Cosude ha ofrecido un apoyo crucial que ha permitido a Access Agriculture convertirse en un líder mundial en el intercambio Sur-a-Sur a través de vídeos agricultor a agricultor.

Stored crops of the Inka August 11th, 2019 by

Much of what ancient people leave behind is related to farming, as I was reminded on a recent trip to Inka Llajta, the largest Inka site in Bolivia, in Pocona, Cochabamba.

Little is known for sure about Inka Llajta, except that it was built on the far, southeast border of the Inka Empire, which they called Tawantinsuyu. The Inka were often at war, expanding into the territory of their neighbors, so it’s possible that the 30-hectare settlement was built as a garrison. Inka Llajta is built on the bottom of a steep cliff, on a bluff above the river. The spot would have been fairly easy to defend, while a waterfall on the site provided essential water.

Fortunately, the site has recently been cleared of much of its vegetation and it is now easier to see. Although I have been to Inka Llajta several times, thanks to the recent brush removal I was now able to see that ringing the front of the site is a row of storage pits.

Until a generation ago, potatoes were planted mostly in the rainy season. Now there is more irrigation and potatoes can be planted somewhere in Bolivia year-round. But until twenty or thirty years ago, some potatoes were stored in underground pits, where the tubers could be kept for six months or more.

I pointed out the row of pits to our guide, doña Berta, who is from one of the local communities. The pits were not on the tour. They had no sign to label and explain them. Humble agricultural features are easy to ignore.

“These were phinas,” I suggested, using the Quechua word I had learned for potato storage pits.

Doña Berta said that in Pocona, such pits are called “k’ayus,” but she immediately recognized them. “We used to make pits, put straw on the bottom, fill them with potatoes and cover them with earth,” she said, confirming that the pits were for potato storage. She added that the pits can also hold other roots and tubers, such as oca.

Inka Llajta is a grand site. It has one building that was 70 meters long, one of the largest roofed structures in the ancient Americas. But Tawantinsuyu lived by farming, and if we look close enough, we can still see where they kept their potato harvest, just a few steps from the fortified buildings, overlooking the valley below. 

When I first visited Inka Llajta 20 years ago it appeared much the way that the Inka had left it. Since then, the site has acquired a parking lot, a visitor’s center, and now you have to hire a guide (like the good-natured Berta, or one of her 16 colleagues, all from the local area). Inka Llajta is now full of signs offering information, including speculation about the site’s past.

One large block of rooms is labelled as an administrative area, while another was supposedly a “specialist’s area” where astronomers, agricultural specialists and builders gathered to organize their calendar based on the weather and the stars. The signs refer to another building as an aqllawasi, where girls of Tawantinsuyu were trained in weaving and brewing chicha, an alcoholic maize drink. In fact, these rooms could have been used for anything, and everything.

A natural boulder in the center of the large plaza is described as an “altar”, based on tales told by the hacienda workers to Erland Nordenskiöld, the Swedish ethnographer, in 1913.

A small tower near the edge of Inka Llajta has a view up the river, where a sentinel might have looked out for approaching enemies. But a sign says the tower was an astronomic observatory that the Inka used to gaze at the stars and decide when to plant. No explanation tells why being two meters closer to the heavens provides a better view for a stargazer.

As we have seen in earlier blogs, contemporary Andean peoples do look at the stars, but they also observe foxes, lizards, wild plants, cactus, clouds, mountains and use many other indicators to predict the year’s weather. A tower would have been of limited use.

Archaeologists use ethnographic analogies to interpret the past. The function of a structure or an artifact may be understood by comparing it to a similar item used by recent people. For example, it is reasonable to interpret the pits at Inka Llajta as places to store tubers, because rural people living near the site still kept potatoes and oca in similar holes until recently.

When archaeological sites are interpreted for the public, speculation can do more harm than good, fixing ideas in peoples’ minds that are hard to shift when new evidence emerges. As surely as an army marches on its stomach, in past civilizations agriculture made the world go around. Ancient peoples no doubt worshipped their gods and pondered the stars, but they also went about the mundane business of feeding themselves, and at archaeological sites you can still get a glimpse of how they produced and stored their food, if you keep your eyes open.

Further reading

Jesús Lara popularized Inka Llajta in newspaper stories after his 1927 visit. Lara’s description of the site is admirably free of speculation; he debunks the idea that the boulder on the site was an altar. His book can still be read with profit.

Lara, Jesús 1988 Inkallajta—Inkaraqay. Cochabamba: Los Amigos del Libro. 109 pp.

Previous blog stories

Forgetting Inca technology

Let nature guide you

Reading the mole hills

Death of the third flowers

Betting on the weather

Scientific name

Oca is a native Andean tuber crop, Oxalis tuberosa

The diesel wheat mills May 5th, 2019 by

The people of Yuraj Molino (“white mill”) live surrounded by wheat fields, in a large valley near the small town of Pocona, Bolivia. As the name suggests, there have been flour mills in Yuraj Molino for some time. But by the late 1970s, customers were complaining of how long it took to grind the wheat; they got tired of waiting all day for their flour. And then millers began to notice that with the warmer, dryer climate, the streams no longer carried as much stream water, to power the mills. Some of the mills closed. Ana and I visited the ruins of a miller’s house, the yard full of weeds, with the mill still there and a calendar for 1984 still on the wall.

Other mills survived. Local miller Juan Torrico showed us his old mill house, with the canal that once brought water from the mountains. In 2001, Juan’s brother Sergio designed a new mill at the mill house. He bought two large, new stones from a master craftsman near Epizana, Cochabamba, who still carves the massive limestone wheels. Sergio bought a diesel engine, and a used truck axel. The brothers built a new mill house and mounted the stones in it, fixed the axel upright below them, and then used a steel rod to connect the axel to the diesel engine, which Sergio put in the next room. This way they kept the diesel smoke and the engine noise out of the mill room. They don’t want the smoke to spoil the delicate flavor of the flour, which people love.

Five or six other mills in the valley are also sited where old water mills used to be, near running water. But most of them are also now powered by diesel motors.

One by one the old water mills around Pocona adapted to diesel, and one or two are still using water power. The change to diesel was gradual and there was never a break in service, never a time when the farmers had no mills to go to. The mills themselves also stayed in the same places. Although the mills were originally sited to be near water, they were also near the wheat fields, and the millers owned the land where their mills were, and they had community ties to the area. So, the diesel mills stayed right where the water mills had been.

There is no research institution providing expertise on how to motorize Bolivian water mills. At some point, the millers themselves had to blend their traditional knowledge with a lot of new information about motors and old truck parts. As always, people in rural areas are constantly creating and making sophisticated adaptations to changing conditions.

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