Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bolivia Diaries, Day 1, Part 3 - Intro to Andean Biodiversity

This diary is part of a series describing my trip to Bolivia to study food sovereignty, agroecology, and climate change. On our first day, we saw a presentation I had literally waited a year to see. Last year I arrived a day late to Bolivia and missed it, and the listened to everyone talk about how great it was for the rest of the trip. And.... it WAS great! The presentation was made by Eliseo Mamani Alvarez from Fundacion PROINPA. Here is the first part.

Eliseo began by reminding us of the four ecological tiers in Bolivia: The Altiplano (highlands), Valleys, Yungas, and Tropical lowlands. With such diverse climates, Bolivia is home to incredible biodiversity, including:
  • 20,000 plant species
  • Up to 2000 species of orchids
  • More than 200 species of cactus
  • 400 species of spiders
  • 950 species of nocturnal butterflies
  • 3000 species of diurnal butterflies
  • 102 species of beetles
  • 175 species of horseflies
  • 600 species of fish
  • 204 species of amphibians
  • 266 species of reptiles
  • 1398 species of birds
  • 356 species of mammals

As this area was one of the very few parts of the world where agriculture was independently invented and also a major center of plant domestication, there are over 50 native crops that contribute to the Andean diet.

These include:
  • Potatoes - 1500 varieties
  • Peanuts - 250 varieties
  • Tarwi (lupine, a legume)
  • Corn - 50 varieties near Lake Titicaca and over 800 varieties in the valleys and lowlands
  • Cañawa - 800 varieties. This is a small grain related to quinoa that is harder to clean and process and takes longer to cook. But it is also higher in protein - up to 20% protein
  • Quinoa - 3120 varieties
  • Cherimoya - 150 varieties
  • Cacao - 25 domesticated varieties (and more wild varieties too)
  • Tree tomato - 25 varieties
  • Chili Peppers - 35-40 varieties, the most popular is a spicy one called locoto.
  • Other tubers - Oca, Isaño, Papaliza
  • Andean roots - walusa, racacha, yacón, jamachip'eke

Corn was obviously domesticated in Mexico, but it made it to the Andes long before the Spanish arrived. Chocolate came from the Amazon basin. These both have centers of biodiversity here in Bolivia despite originating elsewhere. Most of the other crops mentioned were actually domesticated here. I will go into more detail on some of the unfamiliar Andean crops in a later diary. There are also some other less important native foods that I've found, such as native passionfruits like tumbo and mocomoco, and pacay (ice cream bean). And then there are the animals: llama, alpaca, guinea pig (which I nearly ordered by accident this trip), and fish.

This incredible biodiversity is associated with Bolivia's 36 indigenous groups. The largest are Aymara (there are 1-1.5 million Aymara in Bolivia) and Quechua (2 million in Bolivia). This trip included visits to an Aymara village and a Quechua village. It was my first exposure to Quechua (Incan) culture.

The two most important Andean crops are potatoes and quinoa. The next diary will cover both and will also describe how they are impacted by climate change and by globalization.

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