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Implications of the Experimental Research in Raised Field Agriculture

A Lesson in Archaeology, Part 3


People of Segunda Collana

Residents of Segunda Collana, Huatta, after the harvest of potatoes from raised fields (June 1985).

Clark Erickson

A Lesson in Applied Archaeology

Table of Contents

Implications of the Research

In the early 1980s, archaeologist Clark Erickson, Peruvian agronomist Ignacio Garaycochea, anthropologist Kay Candler, and agricultural journalist Dan Brinkmeier began a small experiment in the Huatta, a Quechua-speaking community of farmers near Lake Titicaca. They persuaded some local farmers to rebuild a few of the raised fields, plant them in indigenous crops, and farm them using traditional methods. The "Green Revolution," which attempted to impose inappropriate western crops and techniques in the Andes, had been a miserable failure. The archaeological evidence suggested that raised fields might be more appropriate for the region. The technology was indigenous to the region and it had been successfully used by farmers in the distant past. On a small scale, the experiment was considered successful, and today, some farmers are once again using the technology of their ancestors to produce food. Recently, Clark Erickson discussed his work in the Andean highlands and his new project in the Bolivian Amazon. This is part three of that interview.

In this part, Dr. Erickson discusses the larger implications of the work in the Lake Titicaca Region.

What do you think determines whether people decide to accept or reject using raised field technology?

From 1981-1986, we used no incentives to encourage participation in the raised field experiments other than offering seed. Other development agencies often "paid" farmers in surplus relief foodstuffs, a common incentive used to encourage local development. After the severe flooding of 1986, many agencies promoting raised fields began paying small daily wages as incentives to build raised fields and other public works. In some cases, agricultural tools and wheelbarrows were used as incentives.

As the word slowly spread about the raised field experiments in the early ‘80s, various teams of government and non-government development agencies began to take an interest. During the growing season, there was often a steady stream of 4-wheel drive vehicles bringing national government officials, ambassadors, teachers, agronomists, tourists, anthropologists, political activists, and priests out to visit the community fields of Huatta and Coata. These visits made a strong impression on the local farmers and they soon realized that the raised fields were good PR for attracting funds for rural development projects in their communities. Communities with larger raised field blocks were considered by development agencies to be "reliable" and "motivated," thus were more likely to receive aid to rehabilitate more fields or for other projects.

Since 1986, many groups have been involved in the promotion of raised field agriculture. Some communities participate, many don’t. The reasons for adopting or not adopting raised fields are complex. I’ve tried to summarize some of the factors in reports and publications (see bibliography). Many farmers rely on the traditional cycle of planting—normally a year or two of planting potatoes, followed by barley and quinoa, then 3¬10 years of no cropping to allow the field to recover fertility. Although raised fields can be farmed continuously for longer periods of time and produce their own nutrients to maintain fertility, farmers often apply the traditional rotation cycle and fields are taken out of production after 3 years. When the incentives provided by development agencies run out or are withdrawn, participating communities often abandon their newly constructed fields, despite their potential to continue producing crops. The paternalistic attitude taken by many of the development groups promoting raised fields is not appreciated by local farmers. There are many cases of communities breaking off relations with these groups because of poor treatment and lack of respect. This shows why the decisions to build or not build raised fields is complex.

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