Film documents visit to "Guardians of Diversity" in the Potato Park

A new 15-minute film documents a gathering of indigenous farmers from mountain communities around the world to exchange knowledge and ideas about protecting biodiversity and culture as the basis for adapting to climate change.

News, 10 November 2014

Indigenous farmers from Bhutan and China visited the Andean Potato Park in Peru in April 2014. The Potato Park is an Indigenous Biocultural Territory set up to protect traditional Andean landscapes, production systems and agrobiodiversity, recognising the indivisibility and inter-dependence between culture, biodiversity and the territory. 

The visit enabled the farming communities to exchange ideas about maintaining biodiversity, adapting to climate change and managing traditional landscapes, based on indigenous knowledge and customary laws.

The Potato Park (Parque de la Papa) is an association of five communities of Quechua peoples. They jointly manage their land, which covers 9,600 hectares and ranges from 3,500 to 5,100 metres above sea level. 

The film follows delegations from the Naxi peoples of Yunnan in China and the Monpa and Ura people from Bhutan as they meet with the Quechua and Q'ero peoples from Parque de la Papa and the Q'ero Ayllu people from Cusco.

It shows the farmers discussing their shared concerns about increasingly unpredictable weather patterns. Mountains are among the regions most affected by climate change. Rising temperatures, increased pests and diseases, and changes in rainfall patterns are destabilising fragile mountain ecosystems and the food security of mountain people. 

The delegates learned how the Potato Park is protecting biological diversity as a response to climate change. The Quechua people conserve more than 1,400 native varieties of potato, including 778 varieties maintained by the communities themselves, 400 varieties from the International Potato Center and more than 200 donated by neighbouring communities and Cusco University for safekeeping. Conserving crop diversity is a strategy that comes from their ancestors, and one which is essential to mitigate against the risk of crop failure. 

One of the important results of the visit was an agreement to share indigenous crop varieties and knowledge about how to grow them. This cooperation is seen as a crucial step in their efforts to maintain diverse and resilient crops, and strengthen seed security and food sovereignty. The International Potato Centre has agreed to assist the communities with the exchange of seeds.

The film was produced as part of a project entitled Smallholder Innovation for Resilience (SIFOR). This five-year project is working with traditional farmers in areas vulnerable to climate change to identify, conserve and spread resilient crop varieties and related innovations. The film was produced in partnership with the Peruvian NGO Asociacion ANDES, which has facilitated participatory action-research in the Potato Park since 1998. It was funded by the European Union, which also funded the knowledge exchange alongside UK Aid and the Christensen Fund. The film-maker was Adam Kerby.

The video also shows how the Potato Park communities are developing a range of enterprises to generate income from their biocultural heritage. These include a range of medicinal products and food-based personal care products. Eco-tourism, including a restaurant and craft centre, is now an important source of income.

The delegates also discussed the Potato Park's collective governance system and methods. The park's management is based on Quechua customary values and laws, founded on respect for nature and social equity.

This visit to the Potato Park was an important milestone in promoting Indigenous Biocultural Heritage Territories more widely as a strategy to enhance food security in the face of climate change. It has led to the establishment of a Seed Park in China based on the Potato Park model. 

The film will be featured at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia from 12-19 November 2014, where IIED's Natural Resources Groupand partners will be participating in a range of events. The film will be shown at the session on Biocultural Heritage Territories on Thursday 13 November. A new photofilm on Biocultural Heritage Territories featuring the Seed Park in China and the Bean Park in India, will also be shown at this and other WPC events.