Peru – Native potato cultivation

América Castillo Cunyas is one of the 300 farmers who participate in CARE’s climate adaptation program called Where The Rain Falls in Peru. It started in October 2012 in Peru.

“My name is América Castillo, I come from Chamisería (Peru) and, since the previous season, I participate in the program for native potato cultivation and small animal husbandry carried out by CARE. I would like to thank the organization for helping the whole community by providing native potato seeds and equipment for soil preparation and by organizing training sessions for guinea pig husbandry (7 females and 1 male). Two of these sessions are targeted at women. In Chamisería, we were not used to raise guinea pigs before, we did not know how to do it ; most of the time, the high moisture conditions in the region caused them to die. But now, thanks to CARE’s training programs and support, we raise guinea pigs for our own consumption and to sell some.
As to the native potatoes, we expand our production to other areas so that we can produce more both for our own consumption and to sell some. This season, we sow seeds in the fields located near Ilarshnioc, they were abandoned for more than ten years and were covered with weeds. Now the fields are in bloom, we only hope there will not be any hailstorm or frost so that we may benefit from a good harvest.”

América came to Paris on the week of March 24th to talk about how the impacts of climate change affect her community at a conference held at Sciences Po University. Her story contributed to raising awareness of more than 300 people on how urgent it is to address climate change. Her trip was also an opportunity to arrange a meeting with representatives of the French government in order to talk about this challenge and explain what are the needs of her community.

América, could you introduce yourself? Where do you live?

I come from Chamisería, a village located in the Shullcas river subbasin, in a rural area of the Junín Region, in the Central Andes of Peru. The Huaytapallana glacier, which is the biggest of the region, is about 30 kilometers from there and peaks at 5,500 meters above sea level. It provides water to nearby rural communities as well as to the city of Huancayo, e.g. a total of more than 500,000 people.

What are the impacts of climate change in your community?

The Huaytapallana glacier is not what it used to be, snow and water that were once abundant are now gradually disappearing. In addition to that, water flow is low and both sources and rivers become scarce.

There are also heat waves between 10 am and 3 pm, whereas in the morning and in the evening, temperatures are lower and thus cause frost, which never happened before. These changes affects our crops, especially potato ones. As a result, yield is becoming lower and parasitic diseases appear.

We also noticed that there is not enough pasture for our livestock. Desertification gains ground. For example today, where I live, there are less ichos. Ichos are plants that grow at an altitude between 4,500 and 5,000 meters. They are very useful because the livestock eats the plants that grow under it.

How do you adapt to this situation?

We make a living from agriculture and livestock farming. Therefore my community should find ways to adapt. As president of the « Chamisería agricultural producers association », I ensure ongoing coordination between its member in order to improve our production and way of organizing.

Thanks to the support provided by the Rainfalls project, we started sowing various types of native potatoes such as sumaq soncco, callhuay and huayro potatoes. These have numerous benefits: native potatoes can be kept longer than white potatoes (3 to 4 months, versus 15 to 20 days). They are also more resilient to frost caused by climate change and they need less water.

Native potatoes are good for health since we do not use any chemical fertilizer, but sheep manure compost instead. Moreover, they have a high nutritional quality, which is important for our health and our children’s. When I sell them, I earn more money than with other types of potato, which helps us financially.

We also reforested ten acres of land in our community. We selected a type of pine that is able to retain water. Local authorities gave us the seeds, then we started working.

As to environmental protection, we now have better ovens that need less wood and produce less smoke. Finally, our community has taken steps to sort waste. As a result, we separate organic waste in order to use them as fertilizers in the crops.

What are the next challenges to address?

Nowadays, Chamiseria inhabitants are aware of climate change-related events: daytime temperature rise, glacier melting, longer droughts, but not all of them know why these changes occur… They know the issue, but not its causes and future impacts. What will happen to both our communities and the region? The first challenge is to explain the situation so that people gain understanding of what causes the changes we face on a daily basis and what are the forecast.

At the same time, we need to take action quickly to preserve our water resources, which are essential for livestock farming and agriculture. We want to carry on making a living thanks to our land. One solution would be to reforest more areas with pines. Furthermore, we need to ensure a more effective use of water by investing in irrigation systems. We also need to better manage soils in order to reduce erosion.

How can we find the necessary resources to invest? To whom should we ask for help? Our association is negotiating with the local authorities of the province with the aim of obtaining financial support for the Shullcas river subbasin, but we hardly ever receive answers. We would like to sell more native potatoes to find these resources. Maybe we can achieve it by exporting…

In case the Huaytallana glacier melts completely, as forecasted by the scientific community by 2030, we do not know what we will do. Some youth have already left the community, but I do not contemplate leaving this place.

What are the messages you would like to send to the international community?

We already do a lot of things in our community, but both the government and the international community should support us. The government should be more accountable, but it can only happen if it listens to the voices of the communities and take into account the solutions they may provide.

It is not only a national issue: states that contribute the most to air pollution should reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, since if the Huaytappallana glacier disappears, we will not be able to adapt.

In addition to that, they should realize that women suffer the most from climate change and its impacts on agriculture and health. When agriculture and livestock farming become too difficult, men often leave to find a job elsewhere, while women stay to take charge of land and children.

How was your trip to Paris?

I would never have imagined that I would go to France. Actually, I left Peru for the first time. At the beginning, I was a little bit worried and lost, but I am happy. It is also the first time that I presented what is going on in my community to so many people, I guess that they listened to me. I hope my words will help change behaviours so that we can stop polluting the environment.

I was greatly impressed by the place where I went to talk with the climate advisor of the French president: golden walls, chandeliers… When I see that, I imagine that French people are wealthy.

The people we exchanged words with were very respectful: they listened to us. Now they should take into account our point of view. When? It is a different story! Let’s hope it happens soon.