Learning From the Incas
Updated: May 23, 2021
Throughout Peru there are thousands of ruins that demonstrate the engineering prowess of the Incas. Near Apu Winery are some of the most impressive examples, such as the agricultural terraces of Moray and the irrigation canals of Sayhuite. By planting grapes near so many spectacular ruins, in the ancestral land of the Incas, we were inspired to explore the idea of reviving some of the extinct agricultural techniques of Peru. In the end, the choice was obvious; adopting the agricultural practices of the Incas was a necessary and sustainable option for Apu.
The movement back to ancestral roots is slowly gathering momentum among farmers in the Andes. As Cynthia Graber points out in her article "Farming Like the Incas", the Andean people are recovering ancestral methods because they use water more efficiently and "modern farmers also believe that the Inca ways can offer simple solutions to help protect the supply of community food in the face of climate change ".
When choosing an irrigation system for our vineyards, we looked to the past for answers. Using a system adopted from Andean ancestors, we efficiently channeled the water from the high altitudes. In addition, the concept of Inca terraces allowed us to plant grapes on the steep slopes of the Curahuasi Valley. In this blog post, we will delve into the topic of these terraces, discussing their benefits and explaining how they made this viticulture project possible.
According to Graber, "at the height of the Inca civilization, in the year 1400, the terrace system covered about a million hectares throughout Peru and fed the vast empire." When traveling through the Andes today, the remains of these terraces are omnipresent, giving one an idea of their importance in the past. The most famous example may be the remarkable terraces of Moray. Archaeologists believe that the circular terraces of Moray allowed the Incas to experiment with agriculture at different heights. However, they had many other uses, such as erosion control, improved water absorption, isolation of plants and roots, soil aeration, increased exposure to sunlight, and facilitation of farming in difficult terrain.
While we had found the perfect conditions for viticulture here in Curahuasi, a major obstacle remained: how to farm on the 40-degree slopes. Surprisingly, the answer was scattered across the Andean slopes: Inca terraces. After studying the engineering creations that remained abandoned in the Andes for more than 500 years, we realized that the solution was quite simple. We would create a ladder of 1 meter wide terraces on our 40 degree slope. Now, on a vertical plot of land once considered inhospitable for crops, there are 55 terraces, perfect rows of thriving vines. Thanks to the Incas, we now reap the full benefits of our land, maximizing water efficiency, avoiding erosion, isolating our plants and allowing us to cultivate in this difficult terrain.
We were the first to start a viticulture project in this area, but we hope we will not be the last. Our success story can be applied across the Andes. Using this terracing method to promote crop diversification, the Cusco and Apurímac regions could benefit enormously, making a long-term investment to offset the effects of global warming and reduce poverty.
Graber, Cynthia. "Farming Like the Incas". Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 6 de septiembre de 2011, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/farming-like-the-incas-70263217/.
"Agricultura incaica". Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 27 feb. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incan_agriculture.