Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


BIOVALUE Report Summary

Project ID: 627769
Funded under: FP7-PEOPLE
Country: Netherlands

Final Report Summary - BIOVALUE (Cultural and Bio - diversity Protection through Heritage Policies.Andean Potatoes’ Regimes of Value in Protected Areas and Beyond)

Final Publishable Report:
Since it was first domesticated about 10,000 years ago in the central Andes, Solanum tuber has played a key role in the fabric of human civilization. Through their sophisticated agricultural systems, involving the circulation of potato varieties across a wide array of ecological niches, peasants in the cordillera have developed one of the world major sources of agrobiodiversity. As has happened in many places around the globe, intense agricultural practices promoted in the Andes as part of the Green Revolution have had a negative impact on this diversity. Yet, due to their exceptional ecological flexibility and productivity per hectare, international institutions now appraise potato genetic capital as a strategic asset to achieve food security worldwide. In the Andean cradle of the domestication of the potato, many initiatives have engaged the conservation of potato diversity in the farming context where they have historically evolved. These dynamic in-situ initiatives aim at mitigating the limitations of gene banks, which are unable to transmit the nuances of farmer knowledge and experience (Nazarea 2005; see also Brush 2004). In the highlands of Cuzco, five peasant communities, supported by the NGO Andes (a Spanish acronym for Association for Nature and Sustainable Development) have gathered together to found the ‘Potato Park’ – widely acknowledged today as one of the most successful in-situ conservation initiatives in biocultural diversity.
Situated in the department of Cuzco, the Potato Park counts with 6000 Quechua inhabitants, spread among 5 hamlets. It covers a territory of more than nine thousand hectares, ranging from 38 hundred to 43 hundred meters above see level. The purpose of this initiative goes far beyond this local setting, since the constitution of the Park aims at conserving potato diversity and, thereby, genetic resources that could strengthen the food sovereignty of peasants in the Andes as well as food security all over the world. The Park is therefore inserted into an assemblage of conservation involving international institutions such as the International Potato Center, Oxfam, Biodiversity International, the European Commission, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and universities worldwide. To achieve the conservation targets, an investigation centre, a greenhouse, a museum, a potato-savouring restaurant and a storage room were built in the different communities of the Park. Communal land was allotted to the experimental culture of a range of indigenous varieties by a team of peasants who have been trained to become “local technicians” in charge of potato breeding experimentation.
This research sets out to understand the impact of such in-situ conservation initiative on the multiple value of potato. The proposed methodology is to track potatoes’ social biographies, in the sense of Igor Kopytoff (1986), in order to highlight the different value tubers are attributed in the course of their social life. This has highlighted a limited commoditization process, related with the highly affective value tubers are imbued with. As our field research has attested, peasants in the Peruvian Highlands consider potatoes as “companion species” (Haraway 2008) imbued with intentionality. To understand how peasants appreciate these social crops, we have thus decided to also use the Actor Network Theory by Bruno Latour where social assemblages are seen as composed by ontologically different kinds of actants. This underscored the necessity of tackling potato economic value and ethical values. Drawing on new insights from the anthropology of value (Graeber 2001, Lambek 2008, Otto and Willerslev 2013) have enlightened how these values are enacted in practices.
Another contribution of the BIOVALUE has been to highlight the key role of affect in conservation practices; as well as conservation initiatives influence on people disposition to be affected by potato. By looking at the promotion of ritual practices of potato “care” by Andes, and at how this NGO strives to broadly diffuse an interspecies ethic of “care” and “respect”, the BIOVALUE research has pointed out the concrete mechanisms through which heritage policies can contribute to strengthen the intimate crop-human relationship at the core of agrobiodiversity conservation.
A third thread of the Biovalue has shown that the Park engages potato and peasants into new cosmopolitics. Cosmopolitanism studies have flourished in contemporary social sciences in attempt to highlight new sociabilities in an era of increased circulation of people, goods, ideas and capital (Beck 2012, Hannerz 1990, Ong 1998, etc). Another thread of more recent scholarship explores interspecies cosmopolitics, opening up the polis to other than human entities (Haraway 2008, Latour 2004, Nagai 2015, Stengers 2007, etc). The potato study suggests looking at these two bodies of literature not as mutually exclusive proposals, showing that they highlight different dimensions of the conservation assemblage. From these insights, the Biovalue have proposed a new definition of the notion of cosmopolitan crop.

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