Peru Potatoes — Cornell University & The Peace Corps in the Andes (Peru)

 

Cornell University describes their mission in Peru:

“More than 50 years ago, a Cornell mission to a small village in the Andes introduced social changes that made a profound improvement in the life of the village. Today, echoes of that mission are still visible and may help the community again.

From 1952 to 1966 Cornell had an active presence in Vicos (pronounced “vee-kos”), a peasant community in northern Peru…”

In 2005, at the request of the Vicos community, Cornell  returned to evaluate the impact of those changes. Read the Cornell report here: http://news.cornell.edu/stories/2009/07/cornell-returns-small-village-andes

From 1962  to 1974 ,Peace Corps also worked in Peru, including  in Andean communities.  Peace Corps returned in 2002 and is there, today. Evelyn LaTorre (Peru 1964-66)) described one incidence in her village in the Andes, in 1965.  Her observations are wonderfully accurate and relate to the findings of Cornell so many years later.  Read her story here :https://peacecorpsworldwide.org/a-writer-writes-the-potato-caper-by-evelyn-kohl-latorre-peru/

LaTorre described  an incidence involving  a problem between the campesinos and the landlady of the hacienda and a dispuute over payment for the cultivation of the potatoes. There was a meeting called to discuss the issue. Campesinos were almost powerless.  La Torre wrote:

“After conferring with the others, the lawyer gathered together a small group of indigenous men.  He seemed in charge of getting the details. To do that the men had to climb through a cornfield up to a potato field at the top of the hill. Marie and I weren’t invited. None of the red-skirted women went either.  Apparently, females couldn’t be included when examining potato fields.”

This is what Cornell found fifty years later”

“The green revolution, of course, contained a gotcha: It produced a monoculture — in this case, a particular variety of potatoes. When a nematode came along that liked that particular variety and was resistant to pesticides, the crop was devastated. Heavy applications of chemicals also caused long-term damage to the environment and human health.

Fortunately, another piece of prevailing wisdom of the time was that the development team should deal only with male heads of households. Many women continued the old ways, cultivating a wide variety of different strains of potatoes, and their nonconformity paid off in the survival of crop diversity. Today Vicos produces about 120 varieties of potatoes for food and for sale.”

The Cornell report is an excellent example of following up on innovation and change and the results, some predicted and some unintended.  If Peace Corps has done such Follow Ups, after decades,  I have not been able to find them.  Peace Corps does do evaluations. Here are three from Peru:

Paul L. Doughty was an Peace Corps evaluator in Charlie Peter’s Evaluation Divison. Doughty was an evaluator for the program in Peru and wrote an article based on his evaluation.  The article, “Pitfalls and Progress in the Peruvian Sierra” is included  in “Cultural Frontiers of the Peace Corps”, edited by Robert B. Textor, and published  in 1966 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Anther Peace Corps event is documented in a second article in “Cultural Frontiers”. “Explusion From a Peruvian University” by David Scott Palmer.

The Office of the Inspector General of the Peace Corps now evaluates  Peace Corps programs.  Read the report on Peru: https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.peacecorps.gov/multimedia/pdf/policies/PC_Peru_Final_Evaluation_Report_IG1203E.pdf

 

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  • Although my spouse Barbara (Peru 7) died couple of years ago, nearly 50 years after being married to her, her tales of her experience in the Alto Plano were uniquely Peace Corps in nature and typical of the Volunteers trained in that sole Cornell Project, in which you served. (Working for ACTION many years later, I learned that Cornell was never awarded another training project.) She was to have been matched with a host country volunteer, Corp Puno, which did not materialize and she was without an assignment. Peace Corps Peru had troubled keeping staff at such an isolated, high altitude place and she had no one to turn to for another assignment. So she developed her own, initially teaching English as a Second Language at the Maryknoll Sisters school. Then she learned of a weaving and potting coop that had been started by former PCVs and continued the introduction of aniline dyes for weaving fabric for cloth and other handicrafts. When she left country, she stopped by the US Embassy in Lima and alerted the Commercial attache about marketing the products of the coop, but never was able a way to follow-up on it. Ten years later we were in the Brooklyn Museum Gift Shop and there were products from the coop on sale. I believe that Cornell’s community development training was the kind of eclectic experience which enabled both of you and her to be so successful. And that in a nutshell is what enabled many RPCV to self-actualize and promote real change in our assigned countries.

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