Food Diversification

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Colca Canyon in Peru, one of the deepest canyons in the world with a depth of 13,650 feet (4160 meters), is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Its name comes from the idea that the canyon forms one immense colca, or Inka storehouse. The depth of the canyon creates a diverse range of temperatures and rainfall at different altitudes, from very cold and dry on the top to warmer and wetter on the bottom. These ecological zones are stacked one on top of the other, allowing for a multitude of animals and plants to survive. Plants with varied planting and harvesting times can be grown at different altitudes. So, instead of having to travel hundreds of miles to arrive in a different climate, the Inka just needed to travel for a couple of miles. Today, their descendants living in the Colca Canyon continue this tradition.
Using vertical agriculture, the Inka grew many different crops in one area and kept llama and alpaca herds in the high pasturelands. A farmer, in one day, could harvest a variety of crops within a very short distance. And if frost or drought destroyed crops at one elevation, the Inka could depend on the harvest in another.

Examine this graphic to better understand the meaning of “microclimate environments.” In this illustration of Colca Canyon, agricultural terraces demonstrate the Inka’s innovative concept of vertical agriculture. Making use of the diverse microclimates of these terraces allowed the Inka to cultivate a variety of crops from the bottom to the top of the terraces. This type of vertical agriculture gave the Inka access to a wide variety of foods and other products and protected them against the impact of harsh and unpredictable weather conditions—if frost or drought destroyed the crop of one elevation, the Inka were able to fall back on the harvest in other ecological zones. Also, the Inka maintained herds of llamas and alpacas in the high pasture lands.

Video of father and son in the Andean hamlet of Toqra, Cusco Region, Peru, preparing the land to plant potatoes using an Inka plowing tool called chaquitaqlla that has been in continuous use in the Andes for more than six hundred years.

Video by Isabel Hawkins, 2016.
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