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Wind erosion and the great quinoa disaster December 30th, 2018 by

vea la versi√≥n en espa√Īol a continuaci√≥n

Bolivian agronomist Genaro Aroni first told me how quinoa was destroying the southwest Bolivian landscape some 10 years ago, when he came to Cochabamba for a writing class I was teaching. Ever since then I wanted to see for myself how a healthy and fashionable Andean grain was eating up the landscape in its native country.

I recently got my chance, when Paul and Marcella and I were making videos for Agro-Insight. Together with Milton Villca, an agronomist from Proinpa, we met Genaro in Uyuni, near the famous salt flats of Bolivia. Genaro, who is about to turn 70, but looks like he is 55, told us that he had worked with quinoa for 41 years, and had witnessed the dramatic change from mundane local staple to global health food. He began explaining what had happened.

When Genaro was a kid, growing up in the 1950s, the whole area around Uyuni, in the arid southern Altiplano, was covered in natural vegetation. People grew small plots of quinoa on the low hills, among native shrubs and other plants. Quinoa was just about the only crop that would survive the dry climate at some 3,600 meters above sea level. The llamas roamed the flat lands, growing fat on the native brush. In April the owners would pack the llamas with salt blocks cut from the Uyuni Salt Flats (the largest dry salt bed in the world) and take the herds to Cochabamba and other lower valleys, to barter salt for maize and other foods that can‚Äôt be grown on the high plains. The llama herders would trade for potatoes and chu√Īo from other farmers, supplementing their diet of dried llama meat and quinoa grain.

Then in the early 1970s a Belgian project near Uyuni introduced tractors to farmers and began experimenting with quinoa planted in the sandy plains. About this same time, a large-scale farmer further north in Salinas also bought a tractor and began clearing scrub lands to plant quinoa.

More and more people started to grow quinoa. The crop thrived on the sandy plains, but as the native brushy vegetation grew scarce so the numbers of llamas began to decline.

Throughout the early 2000s the price of quinoa increased steadily. When it reached 2500 Bolivianos for 100 pounds ($8 per kilo) in 2013, many people who had land rights in this high rangeland (the children and grandchildren of elderly farmers) migrated back‚ÄĒor commuted‚ÄĒto the Uyuni area to grow quinoa. Genaro told us that each person would plow up to 10 hectares or so of the scrub land to plant the now valuable crop.

But by 2014 the quinoa price slipped and by 2015 it crashed to about 350 Bolivianos per hundredweight ($1 per kilo), as farmers in the USA and elsewhere began to grow quinoa themselves.

Many Bolivians gave up quinoa farming and went back to the cities. By then the land was so degraded it was difficult to see how it could recover. Still, Genaro is optimistic. He believes that quinoa can be grown sustainably if people grow less of it and use cover crops and crop rotation. That will take some research. Not much else besides quinoa can be farmed at this altitude, with only 150 mm (6 inches) of rain per year.

Milton Villca took us out to see some of the devastated farmland around Uyuni. It was worse than I ever imagined. On some abandoned fields, native vegetation was slowly coming back, but many of the plots that had been planted in quinoa looked like a moonscape, or like a white sand beach, minus the ocean.

Farmers would plow and furrow the land with tractors, only to have the fierce winds blow sand over the emerging quinoa plants, smothering them to death.

Milton took us to see one of the few remaining stands of native vegetation. Not coincidentally, this was near the hamlet of Lequepata where some people still herd llamas. Llama herding is still the best way of using this land without destroying it.

Milton showed us how to gather wild seed of the khiruta plant; each bush releases clouds of dust-like seeds, scattered and planted by the wind. Milton and Genaro are teaching villagers to collect these seeds and replant, and to establish windbreaks around their fields, in an effort to stem soil erosion. I’ve met many agronomists in my days, but few who I thought were doing such important work, struggling to save an entire landscape from destruction.

Acknowledgement

Genaro Aroni and Milton Villca work for the Proinpa Foundation. Their work is funded in part by the Consultative Crop Research Program of the McKnight Foundation.

Related blog stories

Organic agriculture and mice

Awakening the seeds

Scientific names

Khiruta is Parastrephia lepidophylla

DESTRUYENDO EL ALTIPLANO SUR CON QUINUA

Jeff Bentley, 30 de diciembre del 2018

El ingeniero agr√≥nomo boliviano Genaro Aroni me cont√≥ por primera vez c√≥mo la quinua estaba destruyendo los suelos del suroeste boliviano hace unos 10 a√Īos, cuando vino a Cochabamba para una clase de redacci√≥n que yo ense√Īaba. Desde aquel entonces quise ver por m√≠ mismo c√≥mo el af√°n por un sano grano andino podr√≠a comer el paisaje de su pa√≠s natal.

Recientemente tuve mi oportunidad, cuando Paul, Marcella y yo hac√≠amos videos para Agro-Insight. Junto con Milton Villca, un agr√≥nomo de Proinpa, conocimos a Genaro en Uyuni, cerca de las famosas salinas de Bolivia. Genaro, que est√° a punto de cumplir 70 a√Īos, pero parece que tiene 55, nos dijo que hab√≠a trabajado con la quinua durante 41 a√Īos, y que hab√≠a sido testigo del cambio dram√°tico de un alimento b√°sico local y menospreciado a un renombrado alimento mundial. Empez√≥ a explicar lo que hab√≠a pasado.

Cuando Genaro era un ni√Īo en la d√©cada de 1950, toda el √°rea alrededor de Uyuni, en el √°rido sur del Altiplano, estaba cubierta de vegetaci√≥n natural. La gente cultivaba peque√Īas parcelas de quinua en los cerros bajos, entre arbustos nativos (t‚Äôolas) y la paja brava. La quinua era casi el √ļnico cultivo que sobrevivir√≠a al clima seco a unos 3.600 metros sobre el nivel del mar. Las llamas deambulaban por las llanuras, engord√°ndose en el matorral nativo. En abril los llameros empacaban los animales con bloques de sal cortados del Salar de Uyuni (el m√°s grande del mundo) y los llevaban en tropas a Cochabamba y otros valles m√°s bajos, para trocar sal por ma√≠z y otros alimentos que no se pueden cultivar en las altas llanuras. Los llameros intercambiaban papas y chu√Īo de otros agricultores, complementando su dieta con carne de llama seca y granos de quinua.

Luego, a principios de la década de 1970, un proyecto belga cerca de Uyuni introdujo tractores a los agricultores y comenzó a experimentar con quinua sembrada en las pampas arenosas. Por esa misma época, un agricultor a gran escala más al norte, en Salinas, también compró un tractor y comenzó a talar los matorrales para sembrar quinua.

Cada vez más gente empezó a cultivar quinua. El cultivo prosperó en las llanuras arenosas, pero a medida que la vegetación nativa de arbustos se hizo escasa, había cada vez menos llamas.

A lo largo de los primeros a√Īos de la d√©cada de 2000, el precio de la quinua aument√≥ constantemente. Cuando lleg√≥ a 2500 bolivianos por 100 libras ($8 por kilo) en 2013, muchas personas que ten√≠an derechos sobre la tierra en esta pampa alta (los hijos y nietos de los agricultores viejos) retornaron a la zona de Uyuni para cultivar quinua. Genaro nos dijo que cada persona araba hasta 10 hect√°reas de t‚Äôola para plantar el ahora valioso cultivo.

Pero para el 2014 el precio de la quinua comenzó a bajar y para el 2015 se colapsó a cerca de 350 bolivianos por quintal ($1 por kilo), a medida que los agricultores en los Estados Unidos y en otros lugares comenzaron a cultivar quinua ellos mismos.

Muchos bolivianos dejaron de cultivar quinua y regresaron a las ciudades. Para entonces la tierra estaba tan degradada que era dif√≠cil ver c√≥mo podr√≠a recuperarse. Sin embargo, Genaro es optimista. √Čl cree que la quinua puede ser cultivada de manera sostenible si la gente la cultiva menos y usa cultivos de cobertura y rotaci√≥n de cultivos. Eso requerir√° investigaci√≥n. No se puede cultivar mucho m√°s que adem√°s de la quinua a esta altitud, con s√≥lo 150 mm de lluvia al a√Īo.

Milton Villca nos llevó a ver algunas de las parcelas devastadas alrededor de Uyuni. Fue peor de lo que jamás imaginé. En algunas parcelas abandonados, la vegetación nativa regresaba lentamente, pero muchas de las chacras que habían sido sembradas en quinua parecían la luna, o una playa de arena blanca, menos el mar.

Los agricultores araban y surcaban la tierra con tractores, sólo para que los fuertes vientos soplaran arena sobre las plantas emergentes de quinua, ahogándolas y matándolas.

Milton nos llev√≥ a ver uno de los pocos manchones de vegetaci√≥n nativa que queda. No por casualidad, esto estaba cerca de una peque√Īa comunidad de llameros, que queda en Lequepata. El pastoreo de llamas sigue siendo la mejor manera de usar esta tierra sin destruirla.

Milton nos mostr√≥ c√≥mo recolectar semillas silvestres de la planta khiruta; cada arbusto libera nubes de semillas parecidas al polvo, dispersas y sembradas por el viento. Los Ings. Milton y Genaro est√°n ense√Īando a los comuneros a recolectar estas semillas y replantar, y a establecer barreras contra el viento alrededor de sus campos, en un esfuerzo por detener la erosi√≥n del suelo. He conocido a muchos agr√≥nomos a trav√©s de los a√Īos, pero pocos que en mi opini√≥n hac√≠an un trabajo tan importante en comunidades remotas, luchando para salvar un paisaje entero de la destrucci√≥n.

Agradecimiento

Genaro Aroni y Milton Villca trabajan para la Fundación Proinpa. Su trabajo es auspiciado en parte por el Programa Consultativo de Investigación de Cultivos de la Fundación McKnight.

Historias de blog relacionadas

Organic agriculture and mice

Despertando las semillas

Nombres científicos

Khiruta es Parastrephia lepidophylla

Harsh and healthy December 23rd, 2018 by

Hours away from any city and a half hour drive from the pavement, we meet don Miguel Ortega, a warm, welcoming man in his late 40s, along with his wife, Sabina Mamani, and three of their five children on their farm in Viloco village.  In this remote area on the northern Altiplano of Bolivia, I wonder how he manages to feed his family. But first impressions can be deceiving; later in the day we meet his daughter who studies at the university and I realize that this is a prosperous family that is investing in education and healthy food.

The landscape is quite unlike the Southern Altiplano, where the sandy soils and the mere 150 mm of rainfall per year allow farmers to only grow quinoa and rear llamas and sheep. Here, further north, there are more options; soils are more fertile and with 500 mm of rainfall farmers grow quinoa, potatoes, broad beans, barley and alfalfa as fodder. Dairy cows are as prevalent as llamas.

Don Miguel is one of the 70 Yapuchiris, experienced farmers on the Altiplano who share their skills with their peers. He is hired by several NGOs to train groups of farmers on organic agriculture, including how to make organic inputs, such as biol (fermented liquid manure), and how to fill out the Pachagrama, a locally invented method to record natural weather indicators and cropping calendar so farmers can make better decisions.

Don Miguel’s home, a cluster of adobe buildings, houses animals and vegetables that produce a tasty and healthy diet. The farm also has three neo-Andean greenhouses, made with adobe walls and topped with yellow agro-film, a tough plastic that withstands the sun. But one greenhouse is not used to grow vegetables. It turns out to be a home-made biogas installation. The greenhouse structure ensures that the manure and organic waste keeps fermenting during the cold winter months. The unit provides the family year-round gas to cook for 2 hours per day. Being off the grid, a solar panel supplies the household the minimum amount of electricity.

Mid-morning, one of the young girls brings us a mandarin. We accept the fruit with a sense of wonder. At nearly 4000 meters altitude there are hardly any trees, certainly none that require mild Mediterranean temperatures. When don Miguel invites us in one of his greenhouses, we see a single mandarin tree with a few fruits.

In the greenhouse he opens a black plastic sheet laying on the soil. Hundreds of earthworms seek shelter from the light, crawling deeper into the decomposing manure. He tells us that he watched a video a while ago from Bangladesh where farmers were also rearing earthworms. The video had been translated into Aymara and Spanish. While don Miguel had been rearing earthworms before he saw the video, he was pleasantly surprised to see farmers growing earthworms on the other side of the world, and he realized that in the future he could perhaps make enough vermicompost to have some to sell. Training videos from other countries not only give farmers new ideas, they also give them confidence about their own innovations and practices.

The family treated their visitors to a delicious, traditional Andean meal with mutton, potatoes and chu√Īo (potatoes that are freeze-dried outside during the winter nights). Unusual for household on the Altiplano, they also serve organic, leafy vegetables, fresh from the greenhouse. All comes with a delicious, yellow sauce, which later on, we are told is prepared by their teenage son who aspires to become a chef one day.

It is often stated that people in remote areas only grow organic crops by default, because they cannot afford chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Don Miguel and the many Yapuchiris we have met during this trip confirm that such statements are an insult to the many farmers who decide to live in harmony with nature, with care for their environment, their health and their families. Enabling farmers in remote areas to learn from their peers within and beyond their own country deserves the necessary attention.

Watch or download the videos from the Access Agriculture video platform. Shortly the following ones will be added:

Taking notes to learn about the weather

Weather forecast in your hands

Related blogs

Cultivating pride in the Andes

Inspiration from Bangladesh to Bolivia

Farmers produce electronic content

Forty farmer innovations

Acknowledgement

The videos on weather forecasting have been developed with funding from the McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP). Thanks to Sonia Laura, Edwin Chiara and colleagues from PROSUCO for introducing us to don Miguel and his family, and for providing background information.

Awakening the seeds December 16th, 2018 by

Vea la versi√≥n en espa√Īol a continuaci√≥n.

In much of the Bolivian Altiplano, the native vegetation has been largely stripped away. A few people are doing something to replant the vegetation, but it is surprisingly difficult to germinate the seeds of native plants.

These Andean high plains were once covered by scrub land, comprising low-lying bushes, needle grasses and other hardy plants well adapted to the harsh conditions. Llamas foraged on this waist-high forest without damaging it. But as more land was plowed up for quinoa, and more of the bushes were cut for firewood, the native vegetation started to vanish.

Rural families in this part of Bolivia used to make long, narrow stacks of dried brush. But the bushes are now mostly gone, and so are the stacks of firewood.

Fortunately, explains plant researcher, Dr. Alejandro Bonifacio, people are now cooking with bottled natural gas, so they don’t need to uproot brush for firewood, but this respite has come too late. In many places, the deforestation has been so complete that there are no seed-bearing plants left to provide for natural regeneration. So, Dr. Bonifacio and his team travel around the Altiplano, collecting seed of different shrubs, planting the seed in nurseries and then taking the seedlings to sympathetic farmers who are interested in restoring the dry plains.

Seeds of wild plants will seldom germinate if simply scattered on the ground. The plants are adapted to harsh environments, and the seed enters dormancy, only to be awakened by the kiss of some specific environmental signal.

Bonifacio and his students study each plant to determine what will break its dormancy.¬† For example, the k‚Äôawchi, a small woody plant, is so adapted to this land of high winds and rocky soil that its tiny seed must be tumbled over the rough ground and ‚Äúscarified‚ÄĚ before it will germinate. Bonifacio and his team have also learned that it can be scarified by rubbing it in sand or by putting it in a weak solution of sodium hypoclorite for 20 minutes.

On the arid Altiplano, much of the native vegetation is cactus, some of it bearing delicious fruit. In a boutique restaurant in the big city of La Paz, Bonifacio was shocked to that the chef was asking for a supply of one native cactus, called achakana. Yes, achakana is edible, but it takes many years to grow to the size of a tennis ball. The Aymara people used to eat the cactus as famine food when the crops failed, but achakana could be driven to extinction if it starts to be served up in the fashionable eateries of La Paz. So, Bonifacio taught himself how to propagate it.

It was tricky. At first, the seed failed to germinate. Bonifacio learnt that as the fruit matures the seed goes into a deep dormancy. Then one day by serendipity Bonifacio discovered a little bag of fruit had had been harvested green and then forgotten. When he opened the rotting fruit, he found that all of the seeds were germinating. He proudly showed me a small, three-year old plant that he had grown from seed.

The pasak’ana is another endangered cactus that grows so tall that the Andean people once used its ribs to roof their houses. The fruit is also delicious, yet getting the seed to germinate was impossible. Then Bonifacio found that the pasak’ana seed would germinate if it was taken from immature fruit. With the help of a student he now has 1200 little pasak’ana plants, all in demand from a municipal government in Oruro which wants to plant them out.

More people than ever want to grow native plants for fruit, fodder and soil conservation, but each species has its own unique requirements for coming to life. Fortunately, there are patient researchers working to unlock these mysteries and come up with practical recommendations that can help restore degraded lands.

Scientific names

The k‚Äôawchi is Suaeda foliosa, belonging to the unfortunately named ‚Äúseepweed‚ÄĚ genus.

The achakana is Neowerdemannia vorwerckii.

The pasak’ana is Trichocereus pasacana (Echinopsis atacamensis subs. pasacana)

DESPERTANDO LAS SEMILLAS

Por Jeff Bentley, 16 de diciembre del 2018

En gran parte del Altiplano Boliviano, la vegetación nativa ha sido arrancada. Hay personas que se dedican a replantar la vegetación, pero es sorprendentemente difícil germinar las semillas de plantas nativas.

Estos altiplanos andinos estaban cubiertos de t‚Äôolares (matorrales), que inclu√≠an arbustos bajos, paja brava y otras plantas fuertes y bien adaptadas a las duras condiciones. Las llamas se forrajeaban en este bosque enano sin da√Īarlo. Pero a medida que m√°s tierra fue arada para la quinua, y m√°s arbustos fueron cortados para le√Īa, la vegetaci√≥n nativa comenz√≥ a desaparecer.

Las familias rurales de esta parte de Bolivia sol√≠an amontonar las t‚Äôolas, o arbustos, en forma de cercos largos y delgados, para le√Īa.¬† Pero la mayor√≠a de los arbustos han desaparecido, as√≠ como los montones de le√Īa.

Afortunadamente, explica el investigador de plantas, el Dr. Alejandro Bonifacio, la gente ahora cocina con gas natural en garrafa, as√≠ que no necesitan arrancar las t‚Äôolas para le√Īa, pero este respiro ha llegado muy tarde. En muchos lugares, la deforestaci√≥n ha sido tan completa que ya no quedan plantas madres para la regeneraci√≥n natural. As√≠, el Dr. Bonifacio y su equipo viajan por el Altiplano, recolectando semillas de diferentes arbustos, sembrando las semillas en viveros y luego llevando los plantines a agricultores que simpatizan con la revegetaci√≥n de las pampas secas.

Las semillas de las plantas silvestres rara vez germinan si simplemente se echan al suelo. Las plantas se adaptan a ambientes hostiles, y la semilla entra en dormancia, s√≥lo para ser despertada por el beso de alguna se√Īal ambiental espec√≠fica.

Bonifacio y sus alumnos estudian cada planta para determinar qu√© romper√° su dormancia.¬† Por ejemplo, el k’awchi, una peque√Īa planta le√Īosa, est√° tan adaptado a esta tierra de vientos fuertes y suelo pedregosa que su peque√Īa semilla tiene que caer sobre el suelo √°spero y “escarificarse” para poder germinar. Bonifacio y su equipo tambi√©n han aprendido que una alternativa frotarlo en arena o dejar la semilla por 20 minutos en una soluci√≥n d√©bil de hipoclorito de sodio.

En el √°rido Altiplano, gran parte de la vegetaci√≥n nativa es de cactus, algunos de los cuales producen ricos frutos. En un restaurante boutique en la gran ciudad de La Paz, Bonifacio se sorprendi√≥ al ver un cactus nativo, llamado achakana, solicitado para el men√ļ. La achakana s√≠ es comestible, pero tarda muchos a√Īos para alcanzar el tama√Īo de una pelota de tenis. Los aymaras sol√≠an comer el cactus como alimento en tiempos de hambre cuando las cosechas fallaban, pero la achakana podr√≠a llegar a la extinci√≥n si empiezan a ser servirla en los restaurantes de moda de La Paz. As√≠ que Bonifacio se ense√Ī√≥ a s√≠ mismo a propagarlo.

Fue dif√≠cil. Al principio, la semilla no pudo germinar. Bonifacio aprendi√≥ que a medida que el fruto madura, la semilla entra en una profunda dormancia. Un d√≠a, por casualidad, Bonifacio descubri√≥ que una bolsita de fruta hab√≠a sido cosechada verde y luego olvidada. Cuando abri√≥ el fruto podrido, descubri√≥ que todas las semillas estaban germin√°ndose. Con orgullo me mostr√≥ una peque√Īa planta de tres a√Īos que √©l hab√≠a cultivado a partir de una semilla.

El pasak’ana es otro cactus en peligro de extinci√≥n que crece tan alto que los andinos usaban sus palos para techar sus casas. La fruta tambi√©n es deliciosa, sin embargo, hacer que la semilla germine era imposible. Entonces Bonifacio descubri√≥ que la semilla de pasak’ana germinar√≠a si se tomaba de un fruto inmaduro. Con la ayuda de un estudiante, ahora tiene 1200 peque√Īas plantas de pasak’ana, todas solicitadas por un gobierno municipal de Oruro que quiere plantarlas.

Hoy en d√≠a mucha gente quiere cultivar plantas nativas para la conservaci√≥n de la fruta, el forraje y el suelo, pero cada especie tiene sus propias necesidades √ļnicas para volver a la vida. Afortunadamente, hay pacientes investigadores que trabajan para desvelar estos misterios y presentar recomendaciones pr√°cticas que pueden ayudar a restaurar las tierras degradadas.

Nombres científicos

El k’awchi is Suaeda foliosa.

La achakana es Neowerdemannia vorwerckii.

La pasak’ana es Trichocereus pasacana (Echinopsis atacamensis subs. pasacana)

Organic agriculture and mice December 9th, 2018 by

Some practices are harder to introduce to farmers than others. In Europe, environmental degradation caused by industrial agriculture has given rise to new forms of subsidies for farmers to provide specific environmental services, such as planting hedgerows or keeping wild flower strips around their fields. In developing countries, however, environmental subsidies are non-existent and hence curbing environmental degradation can be extra challenging.

Recent developments in the global quinoa trade have devastated the fragile ecosystem of the Bolivian Altiplano. As quinoa production intensified, farmers ploughed up large sections of native vegetation, which left the soil prone to wind erosion. With the thin fertile top soil being blown away and young quinoa plants being covered with sand, many farmers abandonned their land and moved to the cities. The loss of native vegetation also limited the forage available for the llamas and vicu√Īas.

To address this problem, the research organisation Proinpa is trying hard to re-introduce native plants. If native plants could be grown as live barriers around quinoa fields, they would provide fodder and at the same time reduce wind erosion. But some farmers are reluctant to adopt this technology. Planting live barriers costs money, labour and takes up part of their land.

Many of the farmers who plant barriers belong to associations that market organic quinoa. Organic certification ensures that farmers get higher prices, as long as they follow certain practices (such as planting hedges) that contribute to a better social and natural environment. Subsidies for organic farming are rare in developing countries, premiums from certification schemes can partly make up for missing government subsidies, unless pests also like organic crops.

Farmers who grow live barriers told Proinpa that the hedges attract mice who can destroy young quinoa seedlings. Mice are also attracted to the harvested grain as it dries in the field, before threshing. If the quinoa is not stored properly, mice often get into the warehouses. When droppings foul the grain, the crop is rejected for organic trade.

Organic agriculture can be a blessing to boost the income of smallholder farmers and to protect the environment. But as this example shows, organic farmers are prone to additional challenges. Farmers on the Bolivian Altiplano set traps by burying cans partly filled with water to drown the mice. Frustrated quinoa growers also stomp on mice burrows in thie fields or leave quinoa chaffe at the entrance of mice holes, so they eat this and leave the young quinoa untouched.

Every new technology has unintended consequences. Perhaps no one anticipated that live barriers would protect mice, and the soil. Yet farmers who have planted the barriers see their benefit and are willing to find new ways to take on the mice.

Watch and download videos

The video from Bolivia on live barriers against wind erosion will be published early next year on the Access Agriculture video platform .

The video on Grass strips against soil erosion made in Thailand and Vietnam is available in 10 languages, including English, Spanish, Ayamara and Quechua

The many farmer training videos on organic agriculture

Related blogs

Waiting for rats

Quinoa, lost and found

Acknowledgement

The video on live barriers in Bolivia is developed with funding from the McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP). Thanks to Milton Villca, Eliseo Mamani and colleagues at Proinpa for background on this story.

Feeding the Inca Empire November 11th, 2018 by

Vea la versi√≥n en espa√Īol a continuaci√≥n

The Inca Empire depended on a road system, called the Qhapaq √Ďan, that linked its four regions from Ecuador to Chile, moving armies, laborers and food. Like beads on a necklace, the Qhapaq √Ďan was studded with grain silos, called qollqas, where food could be stored.

The largest set of these qollqas is at Cotapachi, near Cochabamba in Bolivia, 1000 km from the ancient Inca capital of Cusco, Peru. Between 1450 AD and 1500 AD, the Inca Empire built 2500 granaries at Cotapachi, on a dry ridge overlooking a small lake in the Cochabamba Valley. According to David Pereira, archaeologist and expert on the qollqas, this site was part of a vast complex, with about 1500 more qollqas on other, nearby hilltops.

Each qollqa is about 2.5 meters in diameter at its stone base and could hold perhaps 4 tons of maize. They were originally about 3 meters tall, with gently tapered cylindrical walls woven from the stems of the ch’illka plant and plastered with mud and roofed with straw of the needle grass.

In 2007, 27 of the qollqas of Cotapachi were reconstructed, so to speak. They were designed by the architect Jorge Obando Stemberg and built by soldiers from the nearby Tumusla Regiment of the Bolivian Army.  These replicas are made from adobe (mud) bricks, but they are kind of graceful in the afternoon sunlight, with the backdrop of the mountains.

Nothing is left of the other silos, except for rows and rows of stone bases.

From Cusco, the Inca could command the granary silos to be filled with maize grown in the green, irrigated fields of Cochabamba. The grain was carried to the garrison that guarded the southeast frontier at Inka Llajta, or it was sent to Cusco via the administrative settlement of Paria, in Oruro, Bolivia. A royal army passing through Cochabamba could provision its soldiers directly with the grain stored in the silos.

The grain was transported on llamas, which thrive on native Andean vegetation, but their slender backs can only carry a light pack of some 25 kg. You would need 160 llamas to haul the grain from one silo. It must have been a marvelous sight when thousands of pack llamas flowed like a river, up the stone slope to Inka Raqay, their first stop on the way to Cusco.

Like the Inka, all ancient states were built on the food and labor wrested from farmers. Some of the arrangements for commandeering and transporting that grain were as impressive as the cities they fed. The bases of grain silos may be humbler than ruined palaces, but it’s important to recognize that civilization is based on agriculture, and that farming does leave its mark on the archaeological record.

Notes

Thanks to David Pereira for sharing his insights about the Inca grain silos at Cotapachi.

The ‚Äú-s‚ÄĚ ending from Spanish is used today for Quechua plurals. In classical Quechua the qollqas would have been called ‚Äúqollqakuna‚ÄĚ.

The Inca, or Inka, was the supreme ruler of a state that was called ‚ÄúTawantinsuyu,‚ÄĚ meaning ‚Äúall four quarters‚ÄĚ.

There were actually more qollqas in the Mantaro Valley, in Peru, than in the Cochabamba Valley, but the silos in Mantaro were spread out over several sites.

Needle grass includes Stipa ichu and related species. It is called paja brava in Spanish, and ichhu in Quechua.

Ch’illka is Baccharis salicifolia.

Further reading

Eeckhout, Peter 2012 “Inca Storage and Accounting Facilities at Pachacamac.”¬†Andean Past¬†10(1):12.

Gyarmati, J√°nos and Carola Condarco Castell√≥n. Circa 2012 “Las ocupaciones prehisp√°nicas tard√≠as y el centro administrativo inkaico en la Cuenca de Paria, Altiplano de Oruro.”

Earlier blog stories

Inka Raqay, up to the underworld

Making new ruins

The tyrant of the Andes

Related videos

The grain kept at Cotapachi may have been stored for a while, or sent soon after harvest to Cusco. Weevils, moulds and other post-harvest problems have always been a challenge, and still are. For videos on handling the maize harvest on a small farm see:

Managing aflatoxins in maize during drying and storage

Managing aflatoxins in maize before and during harvest

Storing and managing maize in a warehouse

Good storing and conserving maize grain

Good shelling, sorting and drying of maize

Harvesting maize in a good way

ALIMENTANDO AL IMPERIO INCAICO

El Imperio Incaico depend√≠a de un sistema de caminos, llamado el Qhapaq √Ďan, que un√≠a sus cuatro regiones desde Ecuador hasta Chile, moviendo ej√©rcitos, trabajadores y alimentos. Como cuentas en un collar, el Qhapaq √Ďan estaba tachonado de silos de grano, llamados qollqas, donde se pod√≠an almacenar los alimentos.

El conjunto m√°s grande de estas qollqas est√° en Cotapachi, cerca de Cochabamba en Bolivia, a 1000 km de la antigua capital incaica de Cusco, Per√ļ. Entre 1450 y 1500 AD, el Imperio Incaico construy√≥ 2.500 graneros en Cotapachi, en una cresta seca con vista a un peque√Īo lago en el Valle de Cochabamba. Seg√ļn David Pereira, arque√≥logo y experto en las qollqas, este sitio formaba parte de un vasto complejo, con cerca de 1500 qollqas m√°s en las otras cimas cercanas.

Cada qollqa med√≠a unos 2,5 metros de di√°metro en su base de piedra y podr√≠a almacenar unas 4 toneladas de ma√≠z. Originalmente ten√≠an unos 3 metros de altura, con paredes cil√≠ndricas suavemente c√≥nicas tejidas a partir de los tallos de la planta ch’illka y estucados con barro y techadas con paja brava.

En el 2007, 27 de los qollqas de Cotapachi fueron reconstruidos. Fueron dise√Īados por el arquitecto Jorge Obando Stemberg y construidos por soldados del cercano Regimiento de Tumusla del Ej√©rcito Boliviano.¬† Estas r√©plicas est√°n hechas de adobes, pero son elegantes a la luz de la tarde, con el fondo de la cordillera.

No queda nada de los otros silos, excepto filas y filas de bases de piedra.

Desde Cusco, los incas podían ordenar que los silos se llenaran de maíz cultivado en los verdes campos irrigados de Cochabamba. El grano fue llevado a la guarnición que vigilaba la frontera sureste en Inka Llajta, o fue enviado a Cusco a través del asentamiento administrativo de Paria, en Oruro, Bolivia. Un ejército real que pasaba por Cochabamba podía abastecer directamente a sus soldados con el grano almacenado en los silos.

El grano fue transportado en llamas, que prosperan en la vegetación nativa andina, pero sus esbeltos lomos sólo pueden llevar una mochila ligera de unos 25 kg. Se necesitarían 160 llamas para llevar el grano de un silo. Habrá sido una vista todo un espectáculo ver a los miles de llamas cuando fluyeron como un río, por la ladera de piedra hasta Inka Raqay, su primera parada en el camino a Cusco.

Al igual que el Inka, todos los estados antiguos fueron construidos sobre los alimentos y la mano de obra arrebatada a los agricultores. Algunos de los arreglos para requisar y transportar ese grano eran tan impresionantes como las ciudades a las que alimentaban. Las bases de los silos de granos pueden ser más humildes que los palacios en ruinas, pero es importante reconocer que la civilización se basa en la agricultura, y que la agricultura deja su huella en el registro arqueológico.

Notes

Gracias David Pereira por compartir sus ideas sobre las qollqas de Cotapachi.

El sufijo ‚Äú-s‚ÄĚ del espa√Īol se usa hoy en d√≠a para plurales en quechua. En el quechua cl√°sico las qollqas se habr√°n llamado ‚Äúqollqakuna‚ÄĚ.

El Inca, o Inka, era el gobernante supremo de un estado que se llamaba “Tawantinsuyu”, que significa “los cuatro cuartos”.

Hay m√°s qollqas en el Valle de Mantaro, en el Per√ļ, que en el Valle de Cochabamba Valley, pero los silos en Mantaro estaban dispersos en varios sitios.

La paja brava incluye Stipa ichu y especies relacionadas. Se llama ichhu en quechua y needle grass en inglés.

Ch’illka es Baccharis salicifolia.

Lectura

Eeckhout, Peter 2012 “Inca Storage and Accounting Facilities at Pachacamac.”¬†Andean Past¬†10(1):12.

Gyarmati, J√°nos y Carola Condarco Castell√≥n. Circa 2012 “Las ocupaciones prehisp√°nicas tard√≠as y el centro administrativo inkaico en la Cuenca de Paria, Altiplano de Oruro.”

Earlier blog stories

Inka Raqay, up to the underworld

Making new ruins

The tyrant of the Andes

Related videos

El grano guardado en Cotapachi pudo haber sido almacenado por un tiempo, o enviado a Cusco poco despu√©s de la cosecha. Los gorgojos, mohos y otros problemas de pos-cosecha siempre han sido un desaf√≠o, y lo siguen siendo. Para ver videos sobre el manejo de la cosecha de ma√≠z en una peque√Īa granja, vea:

Manejo de aflatoxinas en maíz durante el secado y almacenamiento

Manejo de aflatoxinas en el maíz antes y durante la cosecha

Almacenar y manejar el maíz en bodega

Almacenando bien el maíz

Desgranando, seleccionando y secando bien el maíz

Cosechando el maíz bien

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