What is AGUAPAN?
AGUAPAN is an association of “custodian” guardians whose concern is to maintain the varietal diversity of Andean potatoes from Central Peru and assure that its members have the opportunity to improve their wellbeing while conserving biodiversity. Typically, custodian farmers have a special interest in maintaining unique family collections of potato varieties. Yet, the same farmers that maintain the world’s potato biodiversity often live in conditions of poverty with limited access to health care, education or high-value markets. AGUAPAN, through the self-organization of custodian farmers, aims to build a direct link with government and the private sector for benefit sharing initiatives that aim to support agrobiodiversity conservation while improving the livelihood conditions of farmers.
The farmer families belonging to AGUAPAN are from the highland regions of Huánuco, Junín, Pasco, Huancavelica and Lima. Currently the farmer-led organization is growing and expanding to three additional highland regions: Ayacucho, Ancash and La Libertad. Each member of AGUAPAN is from a different community and grows between 50 and 300 ancestral varieties of potatoes using local practices of soil and seed management. The farmers typically plant varieties in mixtures called chaqru, chalo or wachuy in local Quechua. Each member of AGUAPAN is recognized as a custodian by their traditional village authorities and maintains unique family collections inherited from their grandparents.
The creation of AGUAPAN emerged from the recognition that there are no organizations represented by farmers themselves when it comes to protecting traditional varieties and assuring derived benefits for farmers. While the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agricultures (ITPGRFA) and the Nagoya Protocol propose benefit sharing to support smallholders, organizations self-representing custodian farmers were non-existent. AGUAPAN is a response to this situation as it is 100% composed of indigenous custodian farmers representing diversity from well-over 50 communities. By Mid-2020 the association is projected to cover 100 communities.
AGUAPAN is a response to create awareness and knowledge among custodian farmers themselves about their rights, common challenges and ways to improve their living conditions through self-determination. Farmers are often not aware of international treaties and custodian farmers live in isolated mountain communities. In addition, AGUAPAN offers a channel for government and the private sector to work on benefit sharing initiatives directly with an organization that represents the interests of custodian farmers. This way a linkage between investors and benefactors is established in a direct and horizontal form.
Since its creation AGUAPAN has been financially supported through private sector engagement, mainly of potato breeding and seed companies. Depending on the household, funds are invested in child education, health care or farm inputs. Remaining funds are used to support one annual meeting of all AGUAPAN members and quarterly meetings of the elected farmer leaders.
AGUAPAN is special because the association is 100% guardian-led, with mostly indigenous farmers. The activities are based on self-determination in the form of benefit sharing schemes. AGUAPAN therefore offers a practical solution to a complex concept. In addition, AGUPAN is innovative because a direct link is offered between users and ‘conservers’ of genetic resources without ‘intermediaries’. The model that AGUAPAN offers could easily be replicated to other custodians and crops (e.g. coffee, cacao or rice).
AGUAPAN is working in the high Andean mountains, where ecosystems are highly vulnerable to effects of climate change. Farmers are confronted with unpredictable rain fall, extreme frosts and hails, and increasing pressure of pests and diseases. The ongoing conservation of hundreds of ancestral potato varieties in their natural environment is an environmental impact that allows for ongoing crop evolution, the preservation of biocultural heritage and the overall sustainability of food production. In addition, the use of traditional forms of agriculture to grow ancestral varieties like chaqru (quechua) ensure that potatoes protect each other naturally for extreme weather conditions like frost. Ecosystems are protected and restored by management of potato biodiversity and soil health through minimal tillage, sectoral fallowing and the sustainable use of peatlands.
Reduced inequalities and social inclusion
AGUAPAN is an association of ‘custodian’ farmers, or indigenous Peruvian farmers, which means the inclusion of marginalized groups is fulfilled. They form the organisation in which their needs are always put central. The five principles of AGUAPAN show clearly how social inclusion is achieved within the organisation. Openness is the first principle, because every farmer household can become a member that can show they have been maintaining more than 50 varieties of potatoes for two generations, and is recognized by their village authorities. Direct dialogue and investment between farmers and companies for benefit sharing initiatives without transaction costs. Self-determination, because the custodian farmers themselves best know their needs and how to attend these. Information needs to be shared openly and widely between farmer members, and therefore trust and transparency is needed. Elected farmer leaders, clear responsibilities, gender balance and continuous improvement ensure good governance. Those five principles: openness, direct is best, self-determination, trust & transparency, and good governance, are the core of what AGUAPAN stands for. The organisation fights for inclusion and inequality reduction for family farmers.