On our tenth day in Bolivia, Agroecología Universidad Cochabamba (AGRUCO), who we had met the day before, brought us to visit a Quechua (Incan) village they work with to learn about their agriculture. This was perhaps the best day of the trip. Part one covers our stop at a market in the town of Sipe Sipe. This part covers an ancient Incan site we visited that was near the Quechua community. Cochabamba has been the granary of Bolivia since pre-Columbian times.
We got lucky because half our group got lost and I was in the half that did not get lost. While we waited for them, our guide, Gilberto, got himself warmed up and just talked for well over an hour about the local area and AGRUCO's work there.
When we arrived in the Quechua community of Linku (or Linko - we never could figure out how to spell it), our guide from AGRUCO, Gilberto, recommended that we all drive up to an Incan ruin at Incarakay to give the community some time to meet and decide what they would like to do during our visit. Every year, the community of Linku does a big festival for the Andean New Year at these Incan ruins, so they are very important to the community and thus highly relevant to our visit and to understanding this community. We agreed to drive the 20 to 30 minutes to go see them. I took the following two pictures of Linku's fields while this was being worked out.
As luck would have it, when we split into two cars, we had the boys in one car and the girls in the other. Then we took off for the ruins. The girls made it; the boys didn't. Not for a long time, anyway. They got pretty lost first.
While we stood and waited, Gilberto told us just about everything there was to know about the Incan ruins as well as the spectacular view below of Cochabamba.
Originally, there was an Aymara presence in this area (before the Incas) as well as two other ethnic groups, the Cala Cala and the Chuis. Those two were conquered by the Aymara, and then the Aymara were conquered by the Inca. That's why many people here have Aymara names but they speak Quechua (the language of the Inca). They Aymara New Year, which is celebrated at this site, is June 24, which is for them nearly the winter solstice. To celebrate, they sacrifice a llama here.
Both before and after the Incas came to this area, there was a lot of grain production here. During Incan times, that was corn. The Inca Atahuallpa transported the grain from Cochabamba to Cuzco. He had planned to continue his conquest to the Amazon, but the armies there were strong, so he never made it beyond Samaipata in Santa Cruz department. And, if you recall, it was Atahuallpa who was defeated by the Spaniard Pizarro at Cajamarca in 1531, making him the last Inca. (There's a ruin of an Incan fort in Samaipata that you can see today.)
This area provided the grain for much of the Incan army. When the Spanish came and took over the land, they were far more interested in silver than grain production. In Incan times, the grain was corn, and they also grew potatoes. After the conquest, they grew beans, oats, and favas. The Spanish would basically group the indigenous in reservations and would then extract labor from them via the mita. It was a bastardization of the Incan mit'a, a system in which the Inca required men from all over the empire to provide labor for projects of the empire. The Spanish adopted this, but in a much more violent way.
The Spanish, once they came, distributed parcels of land for haciendas to anyone who did them favors, originally only Spanish, but later many of mixed race as well.
Gilberto says that this is a very strategic place because it is the only spot around that gives you a view of absolutely EVERYTHING. You can even see the north of Potosi on clear days. There are several theories on how the Inca used this place. There are several buildings there. One theory is that this was a granary that included a refrigeration system from the nearby lagoons. Another theory is that troops were kept here. But today, we can only view the buildings left behind and guess.
Look at the thickness of the walls.
An offering to Pachamama was made here.
As we stood on the mountain, we could see farm fields below. Gilberto said that all of the land here was owned by the local communities. We could see their fields of mature wheat.
Gilberto mentioned that the climate crisis is impacting this area, so that potatoes can be grown at lower altitudes recently. The mountains around us, he said, are the Cordillera Tunari. Another thing we could see was the lake Laguna de Huayñacota, which has now completely dried because of the climate crisis.
As a food security strategy, the community of Linku manages different agroecological floors. The bottom is the valley, then foothills, and then even higher is almost a dry puna ecosystem in the mountains. The highest elevation is for tuber (potato, papaliza, and oca) production. In the middle elevation, the foothill area, they grow barley, wheat, and some corn. Right now they are in the period of harvesting wheat, which they do with horses.
In the lowest elevation, they also grow grain. Recently, due climate change, they can now grown vegetables and citrus, which they couldn't before. (Our guide, Tanya, added that now in the very high altitudes in the Andes you could see peaches growing, and you never would see that in the past because it used to be too cold.) What is particular about the agriculture in this community, especially in the lower elevations, is that they have really started diversifying their crops.
Mature wheat fields
AGRUCO works with the people in this entire valley in four areas: soil conservation, agrofoestry, horticulture (vegetable production), and improving ancestral traditional irrigation methods. There's actually not that much irrigation here, but there are some channels. You can tell where those go to because you'll see a patch here and there that is very green. The water for irrigation is groundwater.
Most agriculture here is rainfed, especially at the highest altitudes. You'll see in the next diary, when we visit Linku, that their fields in the valley are all irrigated. With the expansion of the agricultural frontier in the valleys and with the changing climate, they have channeled water to their lowland crops so they can grow year round. They've improved and innovated their productive year in the communities, and they produce a wide diversity of products year round on the valley floor, but in the higher elevation they have only one growing season per year.
AGRUCO is here to support a process of endogenous development, meaning they are projects that the communities initiated themselves. In the past, a development agency would come in with a package of technology to deliver, regardless of a community's need. Here, the community sets its own priorities.
In the mid-1990s, a law was passed in Bolivia called the Popular Participation Law. It was a decentralization of funding, allowing the municipalities to decide where their money would go. Each municipality had to develop a Municipal Development Plan (PDM). What happened is that the municipalities had disconnects between their power and the traditional community governance. The municipality would say "We have money so everyone suggest what you want." Culturally, the community didn't know what to ask for. They were used to development agencies coming in and leaving right away, so they didn't ask for long term things. So they would ask for random things like "We want an airstrip" or "We want a pool." It wasn't presented in a culturally appropriate way so they could plan for their community's long term development.
This law was actually from 1994 but only recently is there more outreach, education, and empowerment efforts to help communities understand what it means. AGRUCO has inserted itself into this process. They are also doing research that supports the communities, such as predicting climate change, which is important for the communities because they've always used biological indicators to predict climate.
Gilberto gave us some examples of biological indicators. For example, to decide when to start planting, the elders of the community will look at the water to see if there's a sort of green tint or film on the water. If there is, they predict there will be good rains that year. Another one is that they will lift stones to see if they are moist or dry underneath, to predict whether it will be a wet year or a dry year. Another one is the fox. If the fox has a high pitched cry, then it means it will be a wet year. If it has a low pitched howl, it will be a dry year. And another is the flowering a certain plant (muña). If it fully flowers, it will be a wet year. However, if there are only a few flowers it will be a dry year.
Thus far, he says, they continue to use these indicators even with climate change, but they see indications of climate change in these examples. For example, frogs are very sensitive to change in temperature, so they have seen a great reduction in the number of frogs. There's an awareness of the shifts in what you can produce and where. Perhaps you can produce fewer potatoes but you can grow maize or fruit trees where you couldn't before.
Another theme is in "Solidarity Economies" here. [I find this part very important.] For example, the practice of ayni, which is reciprocal labor among equal parties. AGRUCO works to strengthen and revalue these practices.
An example of this is an important annual festival, the Feast of the Seventh Friday, which is seven Fridays after Holy Week. The people of all of highland areas bring Andean tubers (potato, papaliza, and oca) to the plaza of Sipe Sipe to a huge fair. The communities of the valley floor bring what they produce (corn, squash, fruits), and they bring their goods to the same plaza. At the fair, they use no money. This is purely barter, a "moral economy." Essentially, it's a food swap. Gilberto said, "Es mas al cariño y sentimiento, es una economia solidaria moral." (It's a more personal solidarity sort of moral exchange that links people together to exchange their products.) And it begins with a ceremony to Pachamama and ends with an offering to Pachamama.
Out of this sort of solidary comes umaraca. If you need help harvesting your crop, particularly if you're a widow or if you don't have many children, you cook a big feast, you make a huge vat of chicha, and everyone in the community would come help you harvest. There is no money paid.
Another example is ayni. Ayni means reciprocity. This was something we also talked about in the coca fields. This is an expression of equality. You help me harvest my crop, and I help you harvest your crop. And this would be done between people who have roughly the same amount of work to be done.
Next, he shared a personal anecdote about this logic of "moral economy." One time, he was holding a workshop for campesinos. He needed to buy tomatoes to feed everyone. He went to the plaza and there was a woman there selling tomatoes. He asked her to please sell him all of her tomatoes. She refused. She said, "If I sell them all to you, what will I do for the rest of the day?" Tanya reflected that the same thing happened to her when she was buying bread. She wanted to buy 30 rolls and they wouldn't sell her so many.
Gilberto added that if you don't have much, there are many mechanisms of wealth redistribution in the community. One is the fiesta. Someone in the town needs to pay for it, by paying to rent the costumes, buying the food, etc, so typically it is the wealthiest person or people in the town who will pay for that. The Western view would think that "It looks like they are always having parties, and when are they actually working?"
Another thing they value is the role of the local authorities. With the conquest, colonialism, and early republic, there was a disruption of local authorities. So now AGRUCO finds it very important to value either the ayllu or the syndicate structure, who are very connected to their communities' needs. They support the process of full participation of the full community, of the full syndicate, in decision making and in cultural processes, rituals, and spirituality.
The role of the syndicate is that the municipality will say to each community, based on its population, here is your budget. Then the syndicate gets everyone together and then puts together a proposal for what they want to do and present that to the municipality. The municipality is the representative of the state. The syndicate is basically the representative of the communities to the state. The communities also have vigilance committees to make sure that the municipality does what it is supposed to do.
The community can also choose to do more, to go beyond the money they get from the municipality. For example, USAID might tell a community that they will pay 70% of the cost of a clinic but they must provide 30%. That 30% might come from their municipal budget. Essentially, they can use the state fund from the municipality to attract more funds.
Last, here are a few photos of plants. Unfortunately I did not write down what each is. The first might be one of the plants important in biological indicators. The last is almost certainly an acacia of some sort. I found it interesting that Cochabamba has a climate similar to Southern California (although with more rain) and also had similar plants. Or at least, it seemed that way to my untrained eye. The big difference in weather is that Southern California gets its rain in the winter, but Bolivia gets its rain in the summer.