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Layers, Patches, and Potatoes: On the Emergence of Feral Agroecologies in the Bolivian Andes

Authors: Alder Keleman Saxena*, Department of Anthropology, Northern Arizona University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Anthropocene, Latin America
Keywords: agrobiodiversity, bolivia, pathogens, feral, anthropocene, multispecies
Session Type: Paper
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This paper considers a paradox: while agrobiodiversity is often celebrated as a potential source of resistance to novel pests and diseases, recent reports from Andean farming systems suggest that, under changing climatic conditions, native potato varieties are exhibiting increased susceptibility to pests, presenting a new challenge to agrobiodiversity conservation. Drawing from recent writing on “feral ecologies,” this paper re-thinks and historicizes previous human-ecological analysis of this phenomenon, which emphasized climate change as a key determinant of these conditions. The current paper considers these systems through a multispecies lens, thinking through layers of socio-[agro]-ecological history which have enabled the emergence of tizón temprano (Alternaria solani) as a threat to the diversity of potatoes within their home range. Specifically, in the case of Colomi, Bolivia, it considers the role of agrarian reform in the 1950’s; the construction of a major highway through the region in the 1970’s; the popularization of formally bred potato varieties in commercial agriculture; the fates of fungi, like Alternaria, under conditions of accelerated international trade; and the “patchiness” of climatic patterns in the Andes, both historically and as an emerging phenomenon. These factors lay the groundwork for a “feral” form of co-becoming, which effectively favors both fungi and formally bred potato varieties, while minor varieties become increasingly difficult for farmers to cultivate. The paper concludes by considering how thinking with “feral” creatures might help to de-center narratives – both of past harm and of future progress – which assume the possibility of human mastery over planetary systems.

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