Latin America, a protagonist in Terra Madre
12 Oct 06
Over 400 Hispanic-language delegates from Latin America will take part in Terra Madre 2006, representing about 200 food communities. The community delegates will be joined by about 60 chefs, mainly from Mexico, Argentina and Paraguay, and as many university lecturers committed to protecting food and agriculture biodiversity and its related cultures.
Terra Madre brings together and represents the wealth of farming and food traditions from this huge area that extends from the beautiful uplands of the Andes to the Mexican cornfields and Chilean fishing cultures.
Here are some of the most interesting communities.
Argentina. Yacón producers
Taking part in Terra Madre this year are the producers of yacón (Slow Food Presidium), an ancient Andean root with a melon-like flavour. They will be joined by another 50 Argentinean communities, represented by about 100 delegates, 11 chefs and 8 university lecturers.
To grow yacón the ground is prepared using a taclla, a rudimentary plough used by the Incas, and the bulbs are then placed in the furrows. The roots yield sweet juicy flesh which is dried in the sun for several days, after which it is eaten raw or processed into juice, jam, jelly or escabece (a savoury dish). Yacón is tasty, versatile and can be used in a diabetic diet thanks to its insulin content. Slow Food and the Fundandes association (Fundación para el Ambiente Natural y el Desarollo) plan to relaunch the production of yacón, promoting it and raising awareness. Just over 30 Quebrada farmers are involved in the Presidium, growing yacón on previously abandoned lands and processing it.
Chile. Small local fishermen
30 Chilean delegates at Terra Madre will represent 16 communities with 2 chefs and 5 university lecturers from the Andean country.
From Róbinson Crusoe Island comes a community of small-scale local fishermen who have been fishing lobster for at least 300 years. The Jasus frontalis are fished in waters 50-100m deep using typical small, long wooden boats. Lobster fishing is allowed between October 1 and May 14, and the lobsters caught must be aged between 12 and 14 years. The waters surrounding the island contain other types of endemic fish, molluscs and crustaceans which are also interesting from a sensory point of view. This unique ecosystem has native species of seaweed, birds, mammals, fish and crustaceans which are protected by Slow Food through the Presidium. To promote the island’s overall fish resources, the Presidium proposes the construction of a shared fish-processing laboratory. A collaboration began in 2004 with the Orbetello bottarga Presidium which has given rise to countless cultural exchanges between producers.
Columbia. Arhuaca Natives
About 20 Columbian delegates will take part in Terra Madre representing 12 food communities, with 4 chefs and 8 university lecturers. These include representatives of the native Arhuaca community, from the Sierra Nevada di Santa Marta, in the northern part of the country.
The Arhuaca call themselves Ijka, which means “men of corn”, because this cereal has always been at the basis of their diet and their way of interpreting the world. The four colours of corn (yellow, coffee, black and white) are determining factors in their cosmogony and social organisation. They still consider corn to be a holy food and use it is magical/religious rituals or for therapeutic purposes. They grow corn at various altitudes, in the area’s different climates and microclimates, and use it to prepare traditional foods like arepa, ground corn fritters, and chicha, a fermented drink.
Ecuador. Cacao nacional producers
30 delegates and 2 chefs from Ecuador will take part in Terra Madre representing 11 food communities.
One of the communities is formed by producers of cacao nacional, a Slow Food Presidium and one of the first plants to be cultivated by the Maya in South America. The province of Napo, today a cacao nacional production centre, is located in the heart of Amazonia where the population mainly consists of Quichua indians. The isolated geographical location has preserved the remaining nacional plants, which have been replaced in other parts of the country by hybrids that are more productive and resistant to disease. The Presidium was created in collaboration with the Kallari cooperative to protect the nacional plants and help native communities to improve the fermentation and drying processes. The Napo province is also in grave environmental danger due to the recent discovery of reserves of oil, and the Kallari growers are working to demonstrate that cacao production could represent an important economical alternative while preserving the area’s ecosystem. Today the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity supports the nacional producers in their use of a centralised structure for drying the cacao beans.
Mexico. Amaranth producers in the Tehuacán valley
80 Mexican delegates representing 34 food communities with 20 chefs and 12 university lecturers will participate in Terra Madre.
The Tehuacán valley amaranth producers form a very important community. In the pre-Columbian age nomadic Central American populations grew amaranth, corn and beans here. With the arrival of the conquistadores amaranth cultivation was prohibited and extensive corn and bean production began. Amaranth is rich in protein and requires less water than corn. More parts of the plants can be used – the leaves for salads, and the seeds toasted for flour. Because it does not contain gluten, amaranth is an ingredient of bread, pasta and biscuits for coeliacs. Since 1980 Alternativas (Alternativas y procesos de participación social) has organised cooperatives in 60 villages, involving 1100 native families from the Mixteca region to recover some varieties. The Presidium provides assistance in designing processing machinery, promoting the sweet alegría, made from toasted seeds, and experimenting with products for coeliacs through a project with the University of Milan, thanks to the Fondazione Cariplo.
Perù. Kañihua producers
60 delegates from Peru at Terra Madre will represent 15 food communities, with 8 chefs and as many university lecturers.
From the 3800m of the Andes in southern Peru comes the community of kañihua producers (Slow Food Presidium): this plant which has been domesticated for thousands of years can stand droughts, salty soil and low temperatures. Its microscopic grains yield a very fine brown flour, called kañihuaco in quechua dialect, used to make dry baked goods (kispiño), cakes, soups and hot drinks. Thanks to its high protein content kañihua partly replaces animal protein, like milk, which is hard to find here. Today kañihua production has given way to fodder cereals for zootechnical use. The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity has financed the purchase of a small threshing machine suitable for harvesting and cleaning kañihua and is planning information activities for the Peruvian populations to recognise the nutritional qualities of kañihua and promote its inclusion in their daily diet.