DAY 47 – Quinoa gardens – valley style!

DAY 47 – Quinoa gardens – valley style!

anzaldo valley

The high tropical valleys of Anzaldo.

Two hundred miles as the crow flies and 3,500 feet lower in altitude – which is actually 9 hours of bus rides through winding mountain roads – sits the high tropical valleys of the Cochabamba Department.  Here too is the homeland of quinoa – though without the deep folklore tradition that the salt flats quinoa shares.  Most likely quinoa in this region was brought in by pre-inca ancestors (and not gods) via trade thousands of years ago.  New varieties were developed, adapted to the rich, slightly acidic, Noncalcic Brown soil present in light-pink and reddish-brown hues.  This was a big contrast to the gray desert soils, or sierozem, found in the Southern Altiplano Quinoa Real region.

Within this valley region is the colonial town of Anzaldo, home to 1,100 in-town residents and 6,000 farmers in the outlying communities. Quechua is the principal language here with Spanish being understood by almost all.

Quinoa here is grown very differently from the Royal Quinoa of the southern altiplano.  Here a handful of seeds is sprinkled amongst crops such as corn and potatoes as a supplemental crop to help ward off insects (through the saponins in the seeds) and as an extra food source.  Anzaldos’ principal cash crops are corn – mostly dried and fermented into chicha, a mild homebrew that is popular in the valley regions – and wheat which is sold at 450Bs a quintal (20% higher value than the altiplano quinoa) in the regional Cliza market. Farmers claim to sow the “criollo variety” of quinoa.  This is a general term used in the area to refer to anything that has a colonial history to it.  Chickens and cows are often referred to as being of the criollo variety too.

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Quiet town of Anzaldo.

Agronomist, Jorge Rojas, my counterpart from the state  San Simon University (UMSS) Agronomy Department assures me that within this “criollo” variety actually exists hundreds of distinct quinoa varieties.  He shows me how in a single seed planting there already is evidence of four or five different varieties as distinguished by stem color and seed head formation.  Rojas proposes to develop a seed bank for the quinoa varieties in Anzaldo.  He predicts there will be at least 500 varieties identified.  It will be part of a multi-year study he is developing for the quinoa of this region.

Unlike the women of the altiplano, valley women consume their quinoa, mostly white, as a single grain – either in soups, as rice, or ground into flour and mixed with wheat flour to make high protein breads.  The valley’s stone ground, hand made breads often baked in wood fired adobe ovens are famous throughout the valley and sold weekly in regional markets.

Families claim to harvest about 90 pounds of quinoa a year for their own family use and consume it weekly.  This is Quinoa Dulce (sweet quinoa)– a lowland variety of quinoa that has a smaller seed and less saponin than the Royal Quinoa of the altiplano.  In addition, family members eat steamed quinoa leaves as a spinach product and feed the damaged seeds and chaff to their chickens and animals.

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Anzaldo farmers discuss their wellbeing at our talking stick meeting.

Altiplano agronomists claim it is impossible to grow quinoa and potatoes or corn together, since both are such heavy feeders, but I witnessed healthy plants side by side in the rich valley soils – with all crops appearing robust and healthy.  Though I also noticed some quinoa with mildew and fungal diseases from the recent rain.  The people here did not tend to their quinoa, it was grown more as a wild species left to fend for itself in the fields.  Though in the fall it was harvested, cleaned and stored in an orderly way.

Anzlado Farmers usually work their crops on a four-year rotation, starting first with wheat, then planting potato (with quinoa) the next year, corn (with quinoa) the year following that, and finally beans the fourth year.  The land is then given a one year rest before the cycle starts again.  Natural and chemical fertilizers in the form of urea are applied to the soils in preparation for each growing cycle.

There is an abundance of animals in the region and farms are much smaller than the immense tracks farmed in the Altiplano.  Here people tend to a few acres of production and also have home gardens where onions, carrots, lettuce, squash, broccoli are grown for personal use.  Some have greenhouse tomatoes they tend to and others have fruit trees such as pears and peaches.  In addition, there is an abundance of animals: rabbits, chickens, hens, sheep, donkeys (for transportation) and bulls.  There are few cows raised in Anzlado because of the scarce pasture.  The grass is not abundant enough to support good milk production so instead the people mostly raise beef– managing small herds of 3 to 5 bulls (steers?) per family.

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Anzaldo farmer with her crops.

The Anzaldo region is quite dry and was declared an emergency disaster area from September to December 2016 due to the extreme drought.  In some communities water tanks were installed in villages and water trucked in so residents would have enough to drink.  Today there is rain though the crops have bene planted late and all at once.  This has been stressful for farmers, who are more used to taking their time with their planting cycles – and not having all crops go in at the same time together.  Most of the farming is still done manually and migration is just a big here as it is in the altiplano.  Communities have lost an average of 70% of their residents to city migration.  Families return for festivals, but there is not much labor to be fund in the communities between festival times, when planting and farm work need to be done.

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