The Andes is beset by low endowments of 'geographic capital' (natural, social, human and physical capital) and chronic poverty is endemic. For over 7000 years, Andean farmers have constantly adapted and selected varieties of quinoa and potatoes in order to reduce their vulnerability to a range of environmental risks and to provide some degree of livelihood security. Data suggest that this strategy is now being undermined. Market pressures associated with globalisation, particularly the requirements for consistency and quantity along with the import of subsidised wheat products, are displacing traditional crops such as quinoa and many indigenous varieties of potato.
Based on qualitative research in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, this paper explores the feasibility of approaches that seek to maintain some degree of crop diversity while simultaneously ensuring that farmers benefit from market opportunities. In the case of potato, the most promising approach is one of 'conservation through use' whereby researchers and development workers seek entry points into the market chain so that it makes commercial sense for farmers to grow local potato varieties rather than improved or more cosmopolitan varieties. Meanwhile, quinoa production and consumption has been enhanced by government-sponsored initiatives which utilise quinoa as part of food support programmes, whilst strengthening production, processing and marketing capability among smallholder producers.
The success of these efforts to reduce poverty and enhance livelihood security depends on the existence an enabling policy environment which supports public and private interventions in remote areas and which encourages extension approaches, such as Farmer Field Schools, in which the emphasis is on active farmer participation and innovation.
Crop diversity and livelihood security in the Andes: the case of potatoes and quinoa, presented at Staying Poor: Chronic Poverty and Development Policy, Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester, 7-9 April 2003. Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC), Manchester, UK, 19 pp.