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Agro-biodiversity in Vicos: Growing Crops in an Animated World

Vicosinos have a holistic world view and their relationship with their environment is based on respect, devotion, mutual nurturing and love. For Vicosinos their environment is not only alive but also animated. For example, Vicosinos believe their crop-seeds have "agency" and could leave the plots if are not raised with affection. Mountains are powerful deities, jealous and protective. The earth, Pachamama, is a nurturing mother who deserves care and respect. Before entering Quebrada Honda, Vicosinos ask permission of their deities by making an offering at a spring associated with Pachamama located at the entrance to this sacred zone and sit close to the spring and communicate with the deities by chewing coca leaves in a silent and deferential manner. Part of the communicative exchange is for a ritual specialist to read the coca leaves in order to foretell the weather and productivity.

Coca: cultural symbol, reciprocity facilitator, faithful companion

"Coca is the faithful companion of an Andean man and woman. Coca is spoken to, and a person's most intimate secrets and yearnings are confided to it. Coca responds and tells. It communicates with human beings. It can reply to inner doubts with its taste or through other divinatory devices.

[...] To make my position clear, I must first emphasize the enormous differences between coca use in the Andes and cocaine use in the modern Western world.

[...] Unlike cocaine consumption, coca use is about as injurious to the health of its users as the use of coffee or tea, and is certainly less dangerous than cigarettes. Third, my position in defense of the right to masticate coca is based on the role it plays as a nexus in social integration. Traditional coca use is a culturally defined symbol that expresses group membership." (p. 173-174).

[...] I should add that there is no reciprocal exchange in which coca distribution, together with that of cane alcohol and cigarettes, is not present. Given the connotations of generosity, pleasure, and confraternity associated with coca, it plays a very important role as lubricant of reciprocal exchanges, facilitating and propitiating the climate in which these exchanges take place. The reason is that coca is not only offered but also consumed at that very moment. The ceremonial and often ritual act of consuming coca leaves in a group, surrounded by friends, creates an atmosphere of solidarity that is indispensable for carrying out reciprocal exchanges." (p. 177).

[...] Its effect is the very opposite of the escapism and hedonism sought by the cocaine or crack user. Coca does not stupefy; on the contrary, it generates wisdom and helps find solutions to problems that involve the interaction of unknown factors." (p.195)

Source: Enrique Mayer from "The Articulated Peasant: Household Economies in the Andes", 2002

The different altitudinal zones of Vicos are also distinct productive zones: in the lower zone Vicosinos produce irrigated corn and potatoes while in the intermediate zone they produce corn, potatoes, and cereals. In the highest agricultural zone, Vicosinos practice agroecology without irrigation and grow native root crops and harvest wild varieties. Corn cannot be grown in this zone.

Credit: Urpichallay Association

Finally, just below the snow-capped peaks, the natural grasslands are used for cattle grazing. Root crops and tubers predominate in Vicosino agriculture with more than 100 varieties of potatoes, 49 varieties of oca, 12 varieties of mashua, and 19 varieties of olluco. They also produce 26 varieties of corn, 6 varieties of quinoa, and 30 varieties of beans. (Urpichallay, 1999).

We, Farmers in the Callejón de Huaylas...