Zenón Porfidio Gomel Apaza, a Peruvian agronomist chosen as an Associate Laureate of the 2006 Rolex Awards, is gradually winning over hearts and minds in his international campaign to protect ancient agricultural traditions in the Peruvian Andes. He believes that modern technology and farming techniques are reducing biodiversity and depleting the soil, as well as undermining community life.

Gomel Apaza says that key elements in agriculture are biodiversity and the relationship with what he describes as “Mother Earth”.

He recently returned from the 9th session, in Penticton, Canada, of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues where representatives of indigenous cultures are offered a space to speak and share their knowledge. “It is not a place where decisions are made,” Gomel Apaza says, “but an opportunity for us to share ideas with each other and the rest of the world.”

Those present at the conference were, he says, “all looking to bring value to their native cultures; however, I think that here in Peru, we’ve advanced more [in the work of saving traditional culture] than other more modernized societies like Canada, for example, because they have more ground to cover in order to return to their roots.” He adds, however, that, in comparison with more modern societies, Peru lacks the organization to develop an infrastructure that would help protect and restore ancient traditions, which is something he hopes to help put in place.

But, he believes, the situation is improving. He points out that the university that disqualified his thesis on traditional agricultural knowledge recently asked him to give a speech to agronomy students on the importance of preserving our cultural heritage and maintaining bio-diversity. “Today [among agronomists in Peru] there is a more profound search for alternatives [to modern farming practices], and these alternatives can only be learned on the farm from the farmers themselves. It is clear that traditional knowledge is more important and more valued than before.”

When he is not working for the Asociación Savia Andina Pucarà (ASAP), the organization he started 15 years ago to promote biodiversity and cultural preservation, Gomel Apaza can generally be found on his farm in Peru alongside fellow farmers. According to him, the best way to yield a successful harvest is to spend time observing and tending to the land. “A large part of ancient traditional farming practices involves being in contact with the soil and the crop,” he says. “This active involvement, combined with the practice of planting a wide variety of edible plants, helps guarantee our food supply and self-sufficiency.“

Four years after being chosen as an Associate Laureate, Gomel Apaza continues to advance in his efforts to preserve the traditions of his ancestors, acknowledging that his Rolex Award has provided crucial support in this quest.

Learn more about Zenón Porfidio Gomel Apaza

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