Speaker: Olivia Angé - Université libre de Bruxelles
Date: 23 - 26 July 2024
Venue: Department of Anthropology of Universitat de Barcelona
Panel: 102. Doing and Undoing Multispecies Livelihoods in (Un)healthy Worlds
Link: https://nomadit.co.uk/conference/easa2024/p/14608

Nurturing Potato. Alpaca Faeces and Metabolic Ecologies in an Agrobiodiversity Conservation Area of the Peruvian Andes


In its Peruvian center of domestication, potato offers a rich diet to its growers, making it a vital companion in the pursuit of sumaj kawsay (quechua, good life). A few so-called “improved” breeds introduced through agricultural development policies have been included in the local biota, but hundreds of native varieties are still cultivated in the richest soils of the higher plots, where Green Revolution packages are inefficient. This tuberous cornucopia famously offers a complete diet for human beings, if complemented with minor animal protein intake. Animal contribution is crucial for a good life in ayllu (agricultural community) for yet another, less noticed, reason: their faeces. Called papa mikunan (potato’s food), they offer a necessary manure for tuberous flourishing. Herding, however, requires daily husbandry year-round; a commitment jeopardized by growers’ seasonal migration to earn wages. This paper outlines a vulnerable metabolic ecology through which alpacas are entangled to human and potato in the reproduction of the ayllu. At the turn of the century, international institutions for the conservation of agrobiodiversity launched a shift from ex situ genetic banking to the conservation of plants in their ecological milieu. With these international institutions trumpeting the potato as a strategic crop to achieve food security in marginal communities, conservation initiatives have multiplied in Tuberosum domestication center. Looking at the metabolic intimacies between plants and animals in this agrobiodiversity hotspot offers new insights on the meaning of in-situ conservation policies in the pursuit of sumaj kawsay.