Ancient tradition continues today
Comprendre d'agriculture paysanne dans les Andes centrales,
Pu-Bolivie, edited by Pierre Morlon, INRA Editions, Route de St. Cyr, 78026
Versailles Cedex, Paris, France, 1992, 522 pp., ISBN 2-7380 0412-1 (Pbk), FF
The agriculture of the central Andes epitomizes sustainability.
Centuries before the term came into use, Andean farmers had perfected a land-use
system which, despite difficult climatic and geographic conditions, has provided
food security in a region that has been continuously and densely populated for
thousands of years.
This study attempts to understand and explain how today's
peasant farmers carry on the traditions of their ancestors. And it does this not
through preconceived ideas, which are often erroneous, but through detailed
observation of the farmers' techniques and tools. It explores in depth their
complex strategies for organizing and using their productive resources.
The book is the result of multidisciplinary and multinational
collaboration, coordinated by the agronomist Pierre Morlon. This in itself
should be a consolation to those who believe it is wrong to separate the various
scientific disciplines from one another, particularly the social sciences and
economics, and lament the lack of communication among national and international
Morlon takes a rigorous, scientific approach to his subject. He
shuns easy generalizations, simplistic economic views and the paternalism that
can slant scientists' views of indigenous culture and technology.
But he has not produced a book valid only for the academic
world. The study can serve as a tool for strategists, decision-makers and
experts in agricultural development policy because it contains an abundance of
methods, parameters and points of view, which reveal the elements at play in the
sustainable exploitation of natural resources, particularly in extremely
difficult climatic conditions.
The book points out that although the age-old Andean farming
system would be classified as precapitalistic, it continued to support vast
numbers of people through political, economic and agrarian upheavals. It
survived the drastic changes in land distribution and use that occurred during
the Spanish colonization in the 16th century, as it did again when Peru and
Bolivia joined the international market in the 19th century. The historical
context as well as the intrinsic characteristics of the Andes system provide a
wealth of solutions - and a challenge for development strategists and
intellectuals in those countries.
Presenting detailed information on the Andean infrastructure and
production system, the study chooses variables that are more complex than the
simple cost-benefit mechanism. These include the role of Andean agriculture in
terms of demographics. The purpose is to encourage action to reinforce those
elements that make the system sustainable and efficient and establish flexible
strategies that are complementary to and compatible with development plans.
Another important feature of the study is that it is not based
on a rigid ideological position. Because of this, it can confirm the strategic
rationality and validity of practicing biodiversity, complementarily and
heterogeneity in agriculture. It endorses variety within species and crop
variety, variety in tilling techniques and different ways of extending the
harvesting period over the productive cycle in order to reduce risk.
The study does not go so far as to present the Andes farming
system as a universal paradigm of sustainability. But, by showing how and why
the system works, it helps the reader to discern the universal elements of
sustainability which other communities in different geographic regions of the
world can practise despite growing processes of homogenization ant
- Patricia Baeza-L is a Guatemalan journalist based in