Fighting hunger with native crops
A project in Peru shows that hunger
and poverty can be overcome by tapping into local and traditional crops.
As if he were showing off a treasure, Dionicio Sarmiento holds up his
seed potatoes with a smile. "Look how nice they are, all ready to plant.
It'll be a good harvest," said the peasant farmer from Huancavelica,
Peru's poorest province, where most of the population depends on
Water becoming very scarce everywhere.
Good seeds can make the difference between going hungry or putting
food on the table for your family.
Sarmiento lives in the village of Tinquerccasa, more than 3,500
metres above sea level, where the houses are made of adobe, farmers use
simple tools, and food production barely covers the families' needs.
Piped water is available here only one hour a day, and there is no sewer
Tinquerccasa is in the district of Paucara, where more than 90
percent of the population is poor. In Huancavelica as a whole, where
indigenous people make up the majority of the population, nearly 86
percent of people live in poverty, and approximately 45 percent of
children in native communities are malnourished.
Despite these grim statistics, the United Nations Food and
Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has found fertile ground in the village
for fighting hunger and promoting food security through a project aimed
at strengthening community organisations, reviving consumption of
traditional foods, and connecting farm production with markets, to boost
the incomes of local farmers.
While FAO has forged alliances with local, provincial and central
government authorities, as well as universities, perhaps the project's
most important capital is the traditional knowledge of the local
indigenous people and their dreams of getting ahead.
FAO has found fertile ground in the village for fighting hunger
FAO reports that global food insecurity has worsened, and that it
remains a serious threat to humanity, due to high food prices in
developing countries. The UN agency estimates that the number of hungry
people worldwide will increase by 100 million this year, to more than
Bringing dreams to life
The project in Huancavelica is attacking the problem of hunger from
"Planning is very important for local development and to guarantee
that local families have food," Hernan Mormontoy, coordinator of the FAO
project, told IPS. "And large investments are not needed, just a great
deal of ingenuity, energy and commitment."
When Mormontoy, an agricultural engineer from Cuzco with more than 25
years experience in rural areas and excellent people skills, visits the
participating communities, he walks from one end to the other, talking
to people all along the way.
He says planning is the key, and asks local families to literally
illustrate their dreams by drawing on a piece of construction paper,
which is called their "future land management plan."
In the drawing, the families graphically lay out their hopes for
improvements to their homes and farms, and business possibilities.
"Over here is my organic garden, and a little shed for my guinea
pigs," Sarmiento showed IPS. "Right here, I'm going to put a shed for my
cows; on this other side will
Huancavelicans living on what they harvest.
go the pig sty; and in the front, we want to put a restaurant and a
hostel for tourists."
His son Bush, who is just five years old, attentively listens to his
father's explanation, while his mother, Dionicia, looks on with a smile,
holding their six-month-old daughter Zoraida. "In this project, the
whole family gets involved," says Mormontoy.
"I help water the organic garden, where lettuce and beets are already
growing," says Dionicia in Quechua, her native tongue. "I also help
select the seeds, and prepare the clay for the adobe bricks used to make
houses. I help out in several ways."
The project has dozens of outreach workers like Sarmiento, who are in
charge of getting other local families involved. Through the project,
more than 50 rustic-looking but effective seed storage units have been
built, which have helped guarantee good harvests. The families
participating in the project have also cut their food expenses by 30
percent, while increasing their incomes by 40 percent, FAO reports.
As part of the plan, large plots have been planted with traditional
crops like native potato varieties, the Andean root vegetable olluco (Ullucus
tuberosus), and tarwi or Andean lupin (Lupinus mutabilis), whose seeds
are used in different recipes.
The Lima-based Centre for the Study and Promotion of Development (DESCO)
provides the farmers with technical advice, as part of its aim to
bolster production and consumption of high-protein traditional foods.
Huancavelica, Peruís poorest province, where most of the
on subsistence farming.
Other nutritional native foods are quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa, also
known as Inca wheat), oca (Oxalis tuberosa), a root vegetable, and
amaranth (Amaranthus), a traditional grain. But promoting consumption of
tarwi and amaranth is a challenge for FAO, because local communities are
not familiar with their nutritional qualities or do not know how to
prepare and cook them anymore.
"We made tarwi once and it tasted like poison, it was so bitter,"
59-year-old peasant farmer Pablo Vargas told IPS. He has grown the crop
but basically just to sell, because he is unfamiliar with the technique
for preparing the seeds, which are bitter due to a high alkaloid
content. Preparation involves soaking the seeds in water for several
To boost consumption of these traditional products, food fairs have
been held, where cooks - mainly women - showcase their creative recipes.