Food Culture, Uncategorized

The Traditional Roce, Burning the Land

Smoke Rising From a Burning Garden in Cuzco (Photo: Wayra)

From time immemorial, people have cultivated the land around Cuzco. Agriculture is at the root of our civilization that grew for thousands of years. Over that time, our ancestors developed many techniques of cultivation and different kinds of technology. In the time of the Incas the worked the land by the sweat of their brow, turning the earth with ch’aquitaqllas, foot plows, and quenching their thirst with their holy chicha.

Even today, many people continue to work the earth in the same way, although many others use some machinery. On the slopes of the hills and in other places where it is difficult for machinery to enter people still work with the foot plow, the ch’aquitaqlla.

Smoke from Burning Fields Near Chinchero (Photo: Wayra)
Smoke from Burning Fields Near Chinchero (Photo: Wayra)

Seeing the seeds germinate and the tendrils of young plants reach skyward is truly beautiful. At the end of the years people harvest the land and the old plants dry out when the rains end. Before sewing again, the land must be cleaned and turned. It must be prepared and that means getting rid of all of last year’s growth plus weeds.

One traditional method for clearing the land is called the roce, the burn. The dead vegetation is lighted on fire and this cleans it of all the dead plants as well as weed seeds and some plagues that infest the fields.

After the roce, the land is loose and open. It is easy to turn and easy to sew with seeds. Work is more efficient and easy. The land also becomes more fertile from the ashes that work as a kin of fertilizer.

Burning a Field by Limatambo (Photo: Wayra)
Burning a Field by Limatambo (Photo: Wayra)

But this method is not without cost. It is environmentally aggressive. The smoke that rises can pollute the air and if the fire is not controlled it can escape and cause great damage. It can jump from hill to hill and destroy all in its path.

As a result, many argue it is preferable to clear the land by hand as a means of protecting the environment. Nevertheless, many still continue setting fire to their land, following tradition, so that when the rains come their seeds will sprout and crops grow.


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