back to the main page

back to chapter selection page

The Amazing New Adventures of Larry and Mark - Peru, Land of the Incas

Chapter 50

 Inca Agriculture




It has been a long time-off between chapter 49 and 50 of the Inca story.

I hope to finish it now.  Things have been too busy for me to get to it since

the fall, when my wife's heart condition got the best of her and she passed

away.  After the Inca/Peru story, I have one more to tell of our trip (our last

one together) to the Galapagos Islands. 



It is not my intent to present the entire agricultural connection of the Inca,

but many of the observations made today ring true with the Andeans' ancestors.


Many of the agricultural techniques used by Peru's Andean natives hundreds of years ago are very similar to what is still used today.   Bovine powered tillers have only been around since the Spaniards first introduced the cow to the Incas, but only on flat, lower-elevation areas.    



At higher elevation,  it was all either human- or llama-power to plant or to transport agricultural products. Their tools and technology back then probably were not much different than what is pictured below.



The foot plow, shown below in this illustration from ancient times is exactly the same tool as

the one leaning against the wall in the home we visited in Ollantaytambo.  In the cold, dry,

high elevation, old Inca tools are still found in the ground by the local citizens.



As we were driving down the road after departing Urubamba, I spotted this in the

hills, and asked Willow what it was.  These are the salineras, or salt-ponds, where

salt is harvested .  The hills have deep underground deposits of




 salt, and when rainwater drains off of the hills, it come out salty.  It is channeled




into the salt ponds, where it is allowed to dry out.  I understand that the whitest salt is the



most expensive, and the darkest is used for animal consumption.  While all but the



first photo of the salineras shown here are from the internet, the view back from this

photo to the road looks like the one which I photographed.




While the basic economic entity of Inca culture was the man-and-wife, the individual family did not have the labor resources to build a house, clear, irrigate  and till the land, and to harvest, the unit known as the "aylla" or kin collective worked and built and harvested together.  The Inca had a set of duties and responsibilities which had to be fulfilled, depending on their rank.  To this day, these aylla collectives still exist to survive the harsh climate.  The Aymara term "Ayni" represents a service done with required repayment in similar kind. 


The  Boy Scouts are supposed to "do a Good Turn daily."  The Quechua term "mit'a"  represents a "turn" of labor and its corresponding equal exchange of work.  When individuals married, they had to accept the responsibilities  to  which the partner was obligated.



We saw these natural dyes at one many of the earlier marketplaces. 

These dyes come mostly from plants, but also occasionally from animals. 



A common plant seen in the dry regions of Peru is the Prickly-pear Cactus

You can buy these fruit in season in some markets - they are delicious. The

cottony-white patches are caused by a scale insect called cochineal.


This insect produces the most intense naturally -produced red pigment.


When crushed, the red cochineal pigment is immediately visible.  When purified,

this red pigment is used in all sorts of products, from cloth to cosmetics to food.  While

there is some movement to try to eliminate this food-grade pigment from edibles, it has

no bug parts - just pure dye.  The major alternatives to this dye all come from coal tar-

a much less attractive alternative.


Cochineal is a big industry, which supports the livelihood of many poor highlands families. 

 A pound is worth only a couple of dollars, and takes the harvest of 60,000 insects. 


Corn and potatoes are the most important vegetables developed by the Inca,

but far from the only ones.  Half of the important agricultural products the world

consumes today came from Inca agriculture.  Twenty varieties of corn and 240

types of potato were grown there, as well as  peppers, squash,

beans, peanuts, and quinoa (a high-protein grain.)


The last that I'll mention here is Coca.  Here it is in the royal garden at

Machu Picchu.  The stimulant, which also has minerals and vitamin-C, made



life a little easier for the Andeans then as well as now, and can be available all

over the country in all kinds of products, from dry leaf, soaps and cosmetics, to



chocoate-covered leaves (tasty!,)  to



Coca tea, which we had on many occasions.  Maybe it helped us deal

with the altitude a little bit, but certainly got no more out of it than that.


Last few chapters coming up!


You may reach me with comments:


Laurence Reich



back to the top

back to chapter 49

on to chapter 51

back to chapter page