In the Sacred Valley of the Incas just outside of Cusco, Peru lies a town called Pisaq. From there, take a crazy taxi ride a half an hour UP a windy road, gaining more than 3,000 ft. in elevation. On the left, you will pass ancient Incan terraces, used for centuries to grow their crops. After that, all you see are goats, corn, potatoes and mountains.
Finally you arrive to Paru Paru whose community extends from their highest potato crops at 15,748ft to their science station located at 12,841ft.
So, what’s a science station doing in the middle of nowhere?
Paru Paru realized that their climate was changing AND quickly, affecting their crops and their community, so they did what people often do when confronted with a challenge: they organized.
One of their organization’s many tasks was to prove their weather observations, thus creating a science station.
Internationally Parque de la Papa, or Potato Park, is recognized as an extremely successful example for self-organizing biocultural conservation. It combined five neighboring communities that have prioritized saving their culture (focusing on weaving, medicinal plant use, and cuisine) in unison with their natural resources. Their natural resources also have an emphasis on preserving the biodiversity of potatoes, which currently includes 1342 identified varieties.
Here is the video that I made to share their story.
As said in the video, their goal was to save 714 potato varieties in the world’s largest seed bank for future generations, should anything happen to the genetic material in their community. I was incredibly impressed.
A few months after meeting them, I was in an airplane and reading the airline’s magazine when I saw the below photo. I knew those hats and those beautiful weaves!
This photograph shows the smiles of some of the men and women I met during their visit to the Svalbard Global Seed Bank. It confirmed that they had accomplished their goal. After years of observing the changing state of their community in the face of climate change and wanting to save potato varieties that don’t exist anywhere else in the world, they organized to take 714 varieties to Norway, where their genetic material will be saved for future generations.
This is a great solution and a tremendous step forward for one of the many challenges that mountain communities are having to find. Climate change in the Andes and the other mountain ranges of the world is happening at a rate faster than anywhere else, and as such, offers a glimpse into the future for the other regions, says this United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) report.
Rutgers’ climate scientist, Jim Miller, even says
Globally, the team of researchers found that as altitude rises, the rate of temperature change often accelerates. In the past 20 years, temperatures above 4,000 meters (13,120 ft) have warmed 75 percent faster than at altitudes below 2,000 meters (6,560 ft). (emphasis added)
I participated in a climate change conference in La Paz, Bolivia which had a focus on these changes in the Andes. The breadth of the fields included surprised me: botany and biology, geography and meteorology but also urban planning and land management. It hadn’t occurred to me that with quickly changing climates, the plants and animals are migrating, but human populations are also, following their traditional crops and the water needed to grow them. One of the panels focused on the laws that need to change to be ready to adjust with moving populations, possibly shifting and opening national parks or making land ownership laws more fluid and flexible. While climate change is present in the news, it’s still hard to grasp the many ways that climate change is already affecting individual and community lives. And there are many people that will be affected.
Mountain societies that are vulnerable in Latin America and the Caribbean include a total of 32.9 million people:
23.8 million live below 2500 m
8.9 live between 2500 m and 4500 m
0.2 million people live above 4500 m
True to my focus, the discussion on food access is forefront in my thoughts when thinking about these changing times. The Journal of Alpine Research states that
…climate change is likely to increase (community) exposure to either natural or economic hazards, all the more so because in many mountain areas, poverty levels are higher than in lowland areas and food insufficiency is more widespread.
What’s being done and what can we move forward with?
The Potato Park communities offer a solution for saving their biodiversity for future generations. There are many other ideas that are being developed in other communities with other focuses. Two of my personal favorite solutions of the many that the FAO report offer to help resolve food insecurity in the mountains are:
- to integrate local and indigenous environmental knowledge and practices in climate change adaptation and food security strategies, and recognize and enhance them through public policy and investment
- to focus on ecological and organic farming to reduce the demand for intensive irrigation while enhancing soil capacity for retaining water and improving water quality.
Sometimes reading about the challenging situations that other parts of the world have seems like a pointless effort; it doesn’t relate directly to us far away and it is just too overwhelming to add to our already over loaded attention.
But the world is changing, and it is changing in some places faster and sooner than in others. We can learn from the solutions that other cultures are being forced into discovering, and begin to incorporate their solutions into our lives now, while we can take the time to plan and instigate solutions thoughtfully.
Take what you learn from other people and their places, and grow it around you. Grow where you are planted!
For more information from a more general, larger perspective, check out another blog of mine called “Intro to Global Climate Change and Agriculture.”