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yields was in their ancient culture. This was confirmed when he gave courses for Chuyma Aru, an indigenous organisation near Puno, and realised that agriculture could be based on local knowledge. In 1995 in his home village of Pucará, he launched the Asociación Savia Andina Pucará to promote the cultivation of a wider variety of potatoes and other native plants. For a decade, Gomel Apaza and his neighbours demonstrated that diversification of seeds and tubers, along with traditional methods of preparing the soil, enhanced crop and grassland yields. Although the region is economically impoverished, he showed that by reviving the natural diversity, rather than resorting to imported chemicals and technology, all farmers were able to produce enough to feed their families. Gomel Apaza has been selected as an Associate Laureate in the Rolex Awards for Enterprise for a project that is encouraging farming families to broaden the genetic variety of their crops. Gomel Apaza explains that a diversity of plants means more possibilities for surviving adverse environmental conditions: “We have very extreme weather in the highlands, and if it gets very cold and you only have one type of potato, you could lose everything. But when there is diversity, some types may die, but not others.” This point has also been made by Syrian- based Australian researcher Dr Ken Street, who has been collecting ancient wheat varieties that will allow plant breeders to broaden the modern crop’s genetic base and strengthen its environmental vigour. In the case of the Andean farmers, about 10 different potato species are cultivated, but wild potatoes provide more than 200 additional species. This has provided farmers with the resource to constantly produce new diversity, allowing them to plant potatoes chosen for soil quality, temperature, inclination, orientation and exposure. For more than 10,000 years they have enriched their genetic stock by swapping seeds. Yet in more recent times they have been pressured by agricultural technicians and agribusiness to reduce the types they cultivate. Gomel Apaza says the Green Revolution of the 1960s, with its focus on pesticides, machines and high-yield hybrids, increased the vulnerability of Andean people by narrowing the genetic base of once self-sufficient farming communities. Like the potato, the diversity of other tubers such as ocas, izanos and ollucos, as well as grains such as quinoa and cañihua, is now being researched. Besides promoting agrobiodiversity in farmers’ gatherings, Gomel Apaza is extending his advocacy into other public realms, using radio spots and working with educational institutions to promote agriculture suitable for the Andes. He is pushing primary schools to expand class curricula and to synchronise school calendars with the long-established agricultural calendar. Embracing the lessons of the past will, Gomel Apaza is convinced, produce more than just more potatoes – it will transform how communities are governed, as neighbours relearn respect for the earth and each other. More information: Asociación Savia Andina Pucará (ASAP), Barrio San Francisco, Jiron Leoncio Prado N° 330, Ayaviri, Melgar, Peru, firstname.lastname@example.org Farming systems GROUND COVER NOVEMBER -- DECEMBER 2007 28 Peruvian agronomist Zenón Gomel Apaza believes there are lessons for all farmers in using crop diversity as a tool for managing climate change. Andean farmers harvest a local variety of tuber: they have relied for centuries on using a diversity of species to keep varieties adaptable to their climate. n With half the world facing drought by the second part of the century – according to the UK’s Hadley Centre for Climate Studies – reliable ways to grow food in unreliable conditions will be vitally needed. One man who has found a way to resist the blows that nature aims at farmers is Zenón Gomel Apaza. He thought he knew all about farming in 1994 when he packed up his university agronomy books and returned to his village in the Peruvian Andes, 60 kilometres north of Lake Titicaca, where his ancestors had tilled the fields for centuries. Yet in the harsh Altiplano, almost 4000 metres above sea level, he realised that the modern agricultural methods he had studied had often produced a legacy of failed crops, depleted soils and dysfunctional communities. “My professional education didn’t match the reality of the Altiplano,” Gomel Apaza says. “So I decided to unlearn everything and let the daily experience of Andean life teach me where to go.” As he listened to his Quechua neighbours and walked with them through their fields, Gomel Apaza became aware that much of what he needed to know to improve crop LESSON IN DIVERSITY FOR CLIMATE MANAGEMENT Peruvian agronomist Zenón Gomel Apaza believes modern farming methods deplete biodiversity, the soil and community life, particularly in dry regions. He is exploring how traditional farming knowledge might re-establish a more sustainable agriculture, with lessons, he feels, for Australia Many varieties of grains are among the native plants whose cultivation is being promoted by Zenón Gomel Apaza to improve agrobiodiversity.
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Ground Cover 072 January-February 2008 - North