Ark of taste
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Ajipa, asipa (in Quechua); villu, huitoto (in Aymara); ahipa, ajilpa, achip (in Spanish); dabau (in Ecuador); chuncho beans (in Bolivia and Peru), sweet potato bean, yam bean (in Argentina)

It is a plant of the legumes family, cultivated since pre-Columbian period. It is provided with a fleshy root (similar to sugar beet) that is used for human consumption. This culture could be seen as integral, though, as the plant is profitable as a whole (leaves, seeds and corms). But the main interest lies in its root, where carbohydrates accumulate becoming an energy supply, integrating the protein diet of the native populations still growing it. The root of ajipa can be consumed fresh as a fruit and is often used in fruit salads, but it can also be cooked and fried like a potato. It also produces pulses (edible seeds and pods), with seeds rich of proteins (28%) and oil (21%). Its leaves and stems are steeped in substances with insecticidal properties. Preparing the soil for the cultivation of ajipa is simple, consisting in only two to three passes of harrow, depending on soil texture. Ajipa grows best on sandy soils are preferred, but it can adapt to a wide variability of grounds as well. The plants are easily propagated by seeds. Roots can be also used when still small and thin, reducing growth time. This plant can grow throughout the year, mainly between June and November. Being a legume, it does not demand nitrogen fertilization. During vegetative growth, especially in the anchorage period, irrigation is very important. Flowers should be removed to improve the quality of the roots. Ajipa can be harvested six months after planting, but for commercial production systems it should be done earlier, when the plant is between three and five months old, as small roots are more suited for marketing. In general, the roots are harvested by hand and do not require any particular care for their storage, so that they can also be preserved in the ground. Currently the crop is restricted to small rural areas for home consumption and marketing, but in small quantities. Ajipa is native of South America, with its historic production area limited to northwest Argentina and Bolivia. This product was used by the natives from immemorial time. American Indian cultures, in fact, began the domestication of many plants with underground organs of accumulation of carbohydrates, which have achieved widespread and commercial importance at present, such as potato and cassava. But other species, such as ajipa, were neglected and forgotten, despite their great importance in pre-Columbian Inca culture, as is witnessed by the archaeological findings in burials and representations in ceramics and embroidery. Over time, the cultivation of ajipa for food was lost, mainly because of the loss of identity of indigenous cultures and the expansion of other crops. However, at present, for some rural communities in Bolivia and northern Argentina (provinces of Jujuy and Salta) it still remains an important contributor to food energy and protein for their basic diet. Ajipa can be found in local markets together with other fruits, but only in small quantities.

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