Since pre-Hispanic times, a co-evolutionary relationship built around management of biocultural resources with the mountain environment in Cusco Valley, Peru, has produced the ayllu mindset. While most studies describe ayllu as a political and socio-economic system, few systematic analyses of the ayllu as an ecological phenomenon exist.
We understand the ayllu as a community of individuals with the same interests and objectives linked through shared norms and principles with respect to humans, animals, rocks, spirits, mountains, lakes, rivers, pastures, food crops, wild life, etc.
The main objective of ayllu is the attainment of well-being or Sumaq Qausay; defined as a positive relationship between humans and their social and natural environments. To this end, great focus is given to achieving equilibrium between one’s natural and social surroundings and to maintaining reciprocity between all “beings”; including the Earth.
This practice has proven pivotal to maintaining high biodiversity and has been described by scholars as the product of common-field agriculture. Attesting to this, the majority of subsistence and agricultural activities in the Cusco Valley are based on diversifying uses and the priorities and values of the communities.
This community focus can best be seen in the several economic collectives that have been established with the objective of conserving and sustainably using biological resources; utilizing such tools as Local Biocultural Databases and audiovisual recordings that store traditional Andean biocultural knowledge, seeds repatriation and conservation and provides benefits for the often marginalised women of the Andes.
A traditional Andean landscape
This revitalization of traditional Andean systems is promoting a reciprocal relationship between the people of what is known as the Potato Park, and their environment. The Potato Park is a unique model of holistic conservation of the Andean traditional landscape with a focus on conservation of agrobiodiversity (Argumedo, 2008). The Park is located within the Cusco Valley, covers at total of 9,280 hectares, and has a population of 3,880 inhabitants. First human settlements in the area are dated at some 3,000 years ago.
The Potato Park is also the centre of origin of the potato, nurtured for centuries by the deeply rooted local food systemsof the Quechua peoples. The region is home to eight known native and cultivated species and 2,300 varieties of the 235 species and over 4,000 varieties found in the world. Also found in the region are 23 of over 200 wild species found in the world. The genetic diversity found within just one plot in the area can reach up to 150 varieties (Chawaytire community, Potato Park). Apart from potatoes, other native Andean crops such as olluco, beans, maize, quinoa, wheat, tarwi, mashua and oca are produced.
“The region is home to eight known native and cultivated species and 2,300 varieties of the world’s 235 species and 4,000 varieties, as well as 23 of the globe’s 200 wild species.”
However, the European invasion and colonization of Peru had profound consequences for Andean landscapes, resource use and maintenance of sustainable food and economic systems for livelihoods.
Today indigenous communities are confronting the impacts of colonialism by regaining their strength and inspiration from their own native identity and unique association with the land. Their survival is attributed to their endless patience and a profound spiritual reverence for the Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) and their ecological ayllu, and to their knowledge and innovation systems, which are based on sophisticated understanding of their mountain environment.
This has provided them with an indigenous environmental ethic which has fuelled a conscious effort to preserve their environment and has propelled the creation of new mechanisms to conserve and sustain their natural resources. The case of the communities of the Potato Park demonstrates the deliberate efforts of Quechua communities to maintain diversity in domesticated and non-domesticated plants and animals, which characterizes Quechua farming systems, providing an important opportunity for a dynamic maintenance of genetic resources and landscapes.