The mountain and hill slopes of Peru look different from those where I grew up int eh Western United States. Around Cusco and elsewhere in the Andean republic they look quilted from a myriad of small field and foot paths while in my home they are large swaths of uninterrupted space. The difference is that in Peru they slopes have been cultivated continuously for millennia.
Though the slopes are very steep still they contain fields, as if every bit of land were valuable for producing food and sustenance. You can see the boundaries marking families’ plots and some days you will see men and women working them, using a foot plow, a chaquitaqlla, to turn the earth and plant seed.
These tiny fields, so different from the endless stretches of corn in Nebraska, or the soybeans that have claimed entire savannahs in Bolivia, Paraguay, or Brazil, have been the backbone of Peruvian civilization and life.
It is not just the small fields, but also that they are farmed and often still “owned” in community—families have enduring rights to till, that has made the system work and has fed millennia of Peruvians. Even today, this system provides much food, perhaps even the vast majority of food, that feeds the cities and towns of the country.The e
Nevertheless, the country currently pushes larger scale and capital intensive farming, especially for export. In Ica you an see vast expanses claimed from the desert and watered with advanced and expensive systems of limited irrigation that produce onions, peppers, and fruit for export.
These exports also make their way into markets and especially stock supermarkets throughout the country, though most agriculture is the small scale variety.
Nevertheless, Peru’s government is uncomfortable with the traditional system, because it is traditionally communal and not individual, labor intensive and not capital intensive, dedicated to small internal markets rather than vast internal and external exchanges, and so on. Peru is interested in modernity and development though its laws still protect and support the small farm sector.
The small family farmers of Peru are under appreciated for their contribution to Peruvian civilization and for their important role in modern times. Planners lament the many small coffee or cacao plantings worked by small scale farmers because of their “inefficiencies”, while they fail to see the efficiencies of such historically and even in the present.
The planners’ scope is myopic, focused of large scale management and monetary profits, things that are calculable in ways that enter on ministerial forms to show the growth and advancement of the country as a neoliberal power.
Still the farmers of Cusco and elsewhere in Peru continue. They keep the thousands of varieties of potatoes and corn alive and send them to the market, sometimes int he trucks of cooperatives or those of aggregators, and sometimes in bags they carry them selves.
The richness of Peru may lie these days in formal investment and percentages of return on capital, but it also rests in its small farmers. Their seed stocks and productive fields, their knowledge, and their contribution to feeding the country are immense and should be recognized and valued.
Not all is a large modern tractor slicing into the earth or endless fields of oil palms, the quilt of fields and foot plows should be images on the walls of every planner and every politician. They are the ancient, contemporary, and future support of Peru.