Potato Park, Peru

Sharing of the potato and other seeds was a tool for bringing people together.

 Alejandro Argumedo, Fork to Farm Local Dialogue Facilitator

 

The Fork to Farm Dialogue in Peru took place in August and September 2021 in El Parque de la Papa (Potato Park) in Cusco, Peru.  Alejandro Argumedo, director of the Association ANDES, a non-governmental organization working to protect and support the Andean biological and cultural diversity and the rights of Indigenous peoples of Peru, facilitated the dialogue. Alejandro decided to work with small-scale producers as ANDES already had existing relationships with them. They receive minimal government support and do not tend to have salaries. Further, industrial production is minimal in the region.

 

To start the process Alejandro developed a robust plan. He followed the principles and values of the participatory biocultural approach, which his organisation adheres to, to design the dialogue. He performed multi-scalar mapping, mapping the political processes and his own desired dialogue impacts at the local, national and international scale. Using this mapping he selected relevant methods. For example, at the local level “you would use the Indigneous language and any meeting format would be the same format that communities use to discuss their matters.” Alejandro’s approach was also a decolonial one. For him this meant “that traditional knowledges at a local level are the primary forms of knowledge that lead the discussion.”

 

At this stage of mapping, Alejandro also developed a clear understanding of the context within which he was working: COVID-19 and political instability. On the political front “ministers were being changed all the time, new people kept coming in so having a dialogue with changing policy makers within this uncertainty could mean: the validity of the dialogue suffering, wasting your time and needing to do things again.” Taking time to plan the process was a way to “mitigate the risk and make more informed choices”. Acknowledging this political instability, Alejandro tried to connect with researchers working in government institutions, as while they are not decision-makers their contributions can steer decisions.

 

Alejandro planned to have three stages to the dialogue. One with multiple community gatherings; a second stage of gatherings with policy makers and scientists. The third stage would be their input into the Fork to Farm Dialogues COP26 activities. However, considering the challenging context, they decided to put more effort into the community gatherings.

 

In the community gatherings, representatives from the six communities living in El Parque de la Papa (numbering approximately 5000 people in each community) invited members from 35 other communities from the region to exchange and donate seeds. 

 

Three such gatherings  were organised with approximately 80 people coming together. The “sharing of the potato and other seeds was a tool for bringing people together.” As the organisation were unable to cover participants' travel expenses, the seeds were a token of gratitude in return for their participation. Combining the conversations with a seed exchange was also in keeping with local ways of generating knowledge, where “we learn with our head, our hearts and our hands”. With the seeds “you demonstrated how to sow them: they shouldn’t be sown too deeply, this is the part where you learn with the hands. Then we spoke about their iron contents and how this is beneficial for health, this is the part where we learn with our head. Then we spoke about how the seed came from this particular place and it belonged to this particular woman who loved her son and used it to feed her family, so we learn with the heart, through that relationships between humans and plants.” 

 

One of the defining characteristics of the decolonial approach is that “it is not about dividing things, the cultural unity is maintained.” Using seeds produced by communities, participants spoke about “their quality, their nutritional characteristics, the methods of production, how they are sold in markets, the methods to store them, more or less following the processes within a food system and how each community has their different techniques.” A discussion was then held where the same questions were asked in relation to industrially produced foods. This led to “a broader understanding of the differences between the systems surrounding the food we eat”.

 

Organising the conversation Alejandro followed the practice of having “circulos de ancianos, de mujeres y de jovenes” - circles of conversations where people with a shared characteristic share experiences and perspectives with each other, before talking with a wider group. This was particularly important, because although women in this region do most of the farm work, men tend to make the decisions. This method was a way to get multiple perspectives in the search for collaborative solutions.

 

Local authorities and regional mayors were invited to this gathering but when the date came, the representatives were no longer in post. However, some joined as individuals, even though they no longer had the authority to influence decisions.

 

Ultimately, the relationship-building process occurred mostly between farmers. Reflecting on this, Alejandro says “institutions are weak and there is a high degree of corruption” where relationships between those in power determine which types of agriculture are supported. Consequently, “even if most of Indigenous small producers produce organically and about 80% of what the country eats… almost all of the agricultural policies support food produced for export, commodified food, useless for feeding the country is being exported.” 

 

At the same time policies support the “ultra processed food that comes from outside, like genetically modified soy and maize where owned by transnational companies.” This means that conversations also need to happen with those transnational leaders however, “it is very difficult to call the leader of a transnational and get them to sit with one of the communities in dialogue…or that there is trust between them when what they want is for communities to leave their food systems and start buying ultra processed food.” 

 

Building trust within existing power structures proved challenging and Alejandro believes that “what one can generate through solidarity between communities so a healthier alternative can flourish is more effective, there is no type of government support for this type of indigenous food systems or organic food systems, and it is civil society and NGOs that support this alternative.”

 

One piece of advice: 

“Take the time to plan what you are going to do so you are clear about the methods, tools and processes that you want to use. These are going to be completely different depending on where you are working. For us, we were working with communities that do not read and write in vernacular language so the tools and the methods are different. This process helps you vision a more robust plan.”