The story begins with the talented artist Ana Mayer, daughter of European refugees, who lived, loved and worked in the Mantaro valley. Shortly before dying prematurely at the age of 24, Ana Mayer had written and illustrated several unpublished children’s books. The Interamerican Foundation (IAF) was interested in financing the publication of “El Mundo de Santigo” (Santigo’s world) as a contribution to children´s literature in the Highlands of Peru. According to IAF requirements, an institution had to be created for this purpose. Thus on October 2nd of 1982, Lisbet Behrendt, Stranz, Olimpia Aguirre Palomino, Valentín Tovar Ticse y Severo Zenteno Santo, officially signed into life the NGO Yanapai, which, in Quechua, means “help”. The objective of Yanapai at this stage was children’s literacy. Today “The World of Santiago” is in its 7th edition, has become a classic in schools across Huancayo, won international prizes and has been translated into several languages including Chinese.
However in 1986 a group interested in rural development took over the management of Yanapai and redirected the NGO’s objectives towards the interests and livelihoods of rural families.
The new objectives of Yanapai are:
- Promote rural development and productive endeavors of rural families, with a particular focus on women and children
- Implement Action Research into problems as defined by small organized groups of farmers.
- Offer capacity building support, and facilitate education and livelihoods improvement for rural women.
Initially Yanapai worked in the communities of Aramachay, Quicha Chico and Miraflores on the highland district of Sincos on the Western flank of the Mantaro Valley. Projects evaluating production systems of High Andean communities were supported by Oxfam America. Additionally a collaborative project was set up with “CRISP” (Collaborative Program on Small Ruminants SR-CRSP) to evaluate and implement traditional and new technologies.
On June 14th 1988, Yanapai becomes victim of a terrorist attack and loses two members during a field day: North American economist Constantine Gregory and Veterinarian Gustavo Rojas Caramuti. As a consequence Yanapai pulls back its highland operations and concentrates work in the Valleys far away from communities on the experiment stations of the “Instituto Veterinario de Investigaciones tropicales y de Altura” (IVITA) of the Universidad Mayor of San Marcos .
Our return to the communities
Demand for technical know-how on “seed” and animal husbandry from the regional women’s organization “Yachaq Mama” in the community of Quilcas triggered the return of Grupo Yanapai to the communities in 1992. Since then, we have worked to establish a strong work relationship with the community based on trust and reciprocity.
We began an agro-biodiversity fair in 1999, which went for 10 years and has recommenced under local management and organization in Collpar (a neighborhood of Quilcas). The fair began by looking at the diversity of potato varieties grown in the region and contributing to more formal seed-swapping systems, but has since expanded to incorporate other crops. The results have been amazing. Since 2011 we have been collaborating with the Quilcas community to construct a catalogue of potato varieties which extend beyond the community and encompass the entire southern Junín regional network, and which will document circa 100 native varieties (looking at agronomical, molecular en nutritional traits).
Quilcas has participated for three years in a row in MISTURA, a renowned International food festival in Lima, promoting their delicious, diverse and organically grown potato varieties (grown in traditional mixed lots – in ‘chalo’ or ‘chaqqru’). There is public demand for these diverse ‘papas nativas’, but “market” intermediaries and popular restaurants seem fixed on monoculture.
We have fostered the creation and maintenance of a communal library (where the mantra is “reading for pleasure”). Yanapai funded a librarian to keep it open and lobbied to enable children to take books home. This is the only library in the regions that lends books.
Yanapai extended its area of action to Huancavelica, outreaching to the most vulnerable communities. It started in 2005 with a project aimed at strengthening women’s organizations. Funded by Project Counseling Service ( PCS) it worked collaboratively with a series of partner NGOs including SISAY, SICRA, CADE, KAUSAY CEDINCO, as well as two women´s organizations: FEMUCAY y ASMUC.
At present we are working and conducting research in the Chopcca community of Yauli Huancavelica. The cornerstone for this project was strengthening agro-biodiversity but this was extended into work on production, resilience, animal husbandry and nutrition. Currently our main support comes from the Mcknight Foundation, but we also work closely with the International Potato Center (CIP) on agro-biodiversity monitoring and benefits sharing. We are also expanding into other communities beyond Chopcca and very much looking forward to what the next years will bring.