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Smallholder adaptation to change in the Peruvian Andes: reciprocal impacts of a transforming climate on agricultural practices, soil and terracing

Authors: Blaise Murphy*,
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Latin America, Mountain Environments
Keywords: terracing, soil, smallholders, Andes
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Agricultural terracing in the Andes is an indigenous technology that results from local adaptation to mountain ecosystems through the modification of the geomorphological processes on the landscape. Throughout much of the Holocene, incremental changes to local practices were possible; however, rapid social and environmental change in the past century resulting from both human and environmental drivers and policies creates increased difficulties for indigenous populations. This research uses both quantitative and qualitative methodology to understand the role of agricultural soil and terracing, in addition to socio-economic resources, in the adaptability of smallholder farmers in the Andagua Valley of the southern Peruvian Andes (3000m.a.s.l. - 3200m.a.s.l.). Summer 2019 fieldwork revealed patterns of local experimentation across pre-Hispanic agricultural terracing by indigenous farmers. In semi-structured interviews, farmers identified increasing temperatures, unpredictable seasonality and intensity of rains, a decrease in labor availability and a desire to expand into new markets as drivers of agricultural experimentation. Previous field seasons evidence the productive soil properties of the agricultural terraces, potentially the result of long-term sustainable agricultural practices in combination with the natural fertility of the soil. These soil properties, in addition to the mosaic of terrace microclimates, create an ideal landscape for farmers to test crop altitudinal boundaries and experiment with new crop varieties. These altered practices are enabled by local knowledge formed through long-term relationships with the environment and bolstered by community- and family-driven educational resources and plural incomes. This offers the unique opportunity to examine agricultural experimentation strategies by contemporary farmers using hybrid technologies.

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