It's September in Cusco and you can feel the excitement on the terraced slopes of the Sacred Valley of Urubamba. Dark, fertile soil is lying ready for the farmers of Cuyo Grande to plant potato seeds once again in the style of their Inca ancestors. Nestled between the mountains, this large bowl of land where Cuyo Grande and other villages are located has been called the world's potato reserve.
This is a place where Inca wisdom is continuously reborn. It is the home of a vast array of native potato varieties in all colors, shapes, and tastes. It also nourishes fields of quinoa, wheat, barley, olluco, and corn, just a few of the many crops that guarantee healthy food and a promising future to the valley communities.
"We have started to receive visitors from other parts of the world, people who come to learn about our customs, our agriculture, our textiles, and our traditional medicine," says my host Silverio Yucra proudly as we walk among his recently planted terraces on the outskirts of town. "But above all, we have our native crops," he says. "That's the most important thing to us."
The farmers here are beginning their cultivation work, making the raised beds where the plants mil grow. With admirable effort they break through clumps of dirt using one of the most essential tools of the Andes, the millennial chaquitacllas, a predecessor to the ox plow brought here by the Spanish. On this cold sunny morning in Cuyo Grande, the chaquitacllas are dancing to the brisk rhythm being set by the farmers as they work.
Near the fields, an attractive little school welcomes about a hundred indigenous children, all dressed in clean and colorful ponchos. They are in formation ready to pledge allegiance to Peru's flag, and I capture their expressions with my lens. I see curiosity, mischief, and intelligence, but most of all I notice they are brimming with health. These girls and boys have benefitted from good nutrition thanks to the age-old farming practices of their families, inheritors of a culture that was forged by agriculture and learned how to produce nutritious foods. Good nutrition gives these happy children an advantage when it comes to taking in new information in school. When classes start today, they will learn everything in both Spanish and Quechua.
A good look at this landscape dominated by terraced fields built efficiently between rock walls and ready to produce food makes it easy to understand why these children have better nutrition than those from other places in the Americas.
We climb upwards on the little road towards the Cusco plateau, high above the valley of the world's potato reserve. The highlands extend like a lunar landscape. The land looks dry and barren, the air becomes lighter and thinner, and the plots of farmland are much scarcer than they were in Cuyo Grande. Signs of famine and malnutrition can be seen along the roadside. In these unwelcoming highlands, the sight of malnourished, dusty children presents itself repeatedly and engraves itself in your memory. I see vacant looks, sadness, and hunger. Like nine million other children affected by malnutrition in Latin America, they do not have a way to feed themselves every day and they suffer in silence.
The truth is before our eyes. Humanity is facing a cruel food shortage and a silent famine. This unfortunate reality--not often shown in our media, though it should be--is spreading throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Fifty-five million people are malnourished in our rich and resource-laden region.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the rising price of oil and basic staples and the use of agricultural products for bio-fuels have increased the number of hungry people in the world to more than 920 million. Things may get even worse for the 200 million poor who are barely surviving right now in our region. …