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Article: The Character of Incan and Andean Agriculture

March 26, 2011

Article by:

John Earls
Departamento de Ciencias Sociales
Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.

Photos of Moray (followed by article link) :

Full Article – PDF: The_character_of_Inca_and  Andean_Agriculture

From the paper by John Earls…

“1. Introduction.

“There is an apparent enigma that underlies most discussion of Andean agriculture: How did the
Incas manage to produce the enormous agricultural yields as reported in the chronicles of Cieza de León and others and confirmed by archaeological work (Morris 1981: 327-406)? On the other hand, why have nearly all attempts to raise the productivity of high mountain slope fields with exclusively western technology (colonial and modern) failed? For a first approximation it should be noted that the great majority of (ex) haciendas were located: on the flat coastal riverine areas; on the wider inter-Andean valley bottoms (Mantaro, Cajamarca, Cochabamba, etc.); and in certain areas of the plains of the high punas which are mostly used for pastoral activity rather than for cropping. These are precisely the parts of the Andes, which are less typical of the environment than the rugged sloped areas where the majority of Indian peasant communities are located today. Only in those atypical areas have exclusively western type agricultural strategies (which nowadays are associated with machinery, mono-cultivation, etc.) been implemented with success2. In this paper some of the reasons for this seemingly enigmatic circumstance will be brought out. Many writers beginning with some of the chroniclers and continued by anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, agronomists, and others to the present day have recognized that there is a certain “special character” to Inca agriculture. In this paper I will show that this “special character” has much to do with the nature of the climatic conditions at high altitudes in the Andean tropical zone and the organizational patterns associated with it. One of the first systematic attempts to interpret the character and evolution of Andean civilization in relation to the structure of the environment was due to Carl Troll (1980); his work has been a constant source of inspiration for many students of this problem including the present author.

“The key characteristic of this environment is best expressed by one term — diversity. I do not maintain that Inca and the environment determines Andean culture, but as Flannery et al (1991) have put it — culture is not adaptively neutral. The ecoclimatic situation at high altitudes places constraints on what can be done and what can not. A viable agricultural system in the Andean environment is one that can maintain its own stability in face of the very high uncertainty generated by this diversity. In the first part of this paper I will discuss this diversity and the main physical principles that underlie it. I will first give a brief account of the spatial diversity the Andean climatic gradients that are associated with it. Following this the factor of temporal diversity, and risk, will be discussed.

“In the second section I will discuss the strategies of ecoclimatic uncertainty management that were incorporated into Inca socio-economic organization, and something of their preinca development. — many of which continue to be employed in the modern Andean indigenous communities. In the third section I will go on to describe how a continual practice of experimentation is a requisite for agricultural viability in the Andes and describe some results of my study of the Inca agricultural experimental site of Moray. In the course of the discussion of these points what I mean by the character of Inca and Andean agriculture will become clear.”

Download full article – PDF… The_character_of_Inca_and_Andean_Agriculture

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Zinkertin permalink
    April 2, 2011 10:08:21 pm



  1. Article: The Character of Incan and Andean Agriculture |

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