Tonko Maize

Ark of taste
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Maíz Andino, Tonko 

Maíz Andino, or Tonko as it is called in the Aymara language, is grown on slopes and valles between 1700 and 3800 meters above sea level. Productivity ranges from 800 – 2500 kg/hectare and varies greatly depending on the ecosystem in which it grows in the nearby shores of Lake Titicaca in the Department of La Paz along Bolivia’s western border. Andean maize is characterized by its small size with ears between 4-15 cm long, in a variety of colors: white, yellow, red, blue, gray, and combinations of these colors. Individual ears weigh about 50 grams.   Virtually all communities (about 35) around the peninsula of Copacabana currently grow corn, and interviews conducted with older residents indicate that it has been cultivated for many generations. For ancient peoples, corn was their staple food, and consumption patterns were very similar to today. Corn is the main ingredient of traditional Bolivian cooking, being present in many dishes and drinks, including: apis, laguas, humintas, toasted pasankalla and many others. It was not only used for food though; Chicha (a drink made from corn) was the main ingredient of festivals and rituals. It was considered the elixir of the Incas, who would have been the first to produce it; prepared from the fermentation of carefully selected corn kernels.   Around 1000 BC, corn cultivation was adapted to the highlands over 3000 meters. By about 500 BC, people had started to produce varieties on the shores of Lake Titicaca Basin. The cultivation and use of corn was initially restricted to rituals and ceremonies, both in community and family settings, mainly for the production of chicha (kusa in Aymara and akha in Quechua), but was very limited in its contribution as a daily food source for the population. Both maize and chicha production, particularly with Tiwanaku and the Incan empire, would become extremely important.   The Andean world is centered around agriculture and is based on the creation of life and maintaining the delicate balance between land, plants and animals. Thus the ritual calendar is based on the agricultural calendar, and during the production cycle of maize parts of these rites and traditions are played out. There are rites for planting and others for harvest. Andean maize grown in these areas Is for home consumption, exchange between community members and chicha production. Corn sold in the markets is of a larger, white variety of corn grown in the valleys.   Maíz Andino risks extinction because there is no economic demand for this type of corn compared to larger varieties and other crops such as beans and potatoes. The communities that produce it experience high level of migration, and therefore, loss of this agricultural and seed sharing tradition. Furthermore, consumption of alcoholic beverages has shifted from the traditional corn chichi to rum and beer. Finally, this traditional variety is under threat from the spread of transgenic maize production in Bolivia.  It is necessary to develop policies to rescue and promote the social and cultural value of this living heritage, to encourage conservation and transformation of native maize production for the benefit of local families, to establish conditions for sustainable economic development and to define actions at the local level and community development strategies for in situ conservation.

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La Paz

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Cereals and flours

Indigenous community:Aymara