Maca (Lepidium meyenii) Cultivation in the Andes
Raintree's maca is organically cultivated in the Andes Mountains in Peru. The central growing region for maca is in the Junin district of Peru. The best overland route is from Lima (310 km) up the Central Highway, crossing over the Andes through the high mountain pass of Anticona (Ticlio) which sits at 16,000 feet in elevation. It takes around five and one-half hours by car on this 2 lane highway that winds its way up the Andes and back down. The drive is quite scenic and the colors of the soils and mountain rocks quite dramatic and varied.
The highway speed is usually only 30-40 km/hour due to the winding roads and you can never tell when you might run into a herd of sheep or llama crossing the highway.
The area is quite dry and at this high elevation there is a large swing in temperature from day to night. Very few trees adapt to this environment and low lying pampass grass and other low lying vegetation dominates the landscape at the high elevations. There are high mountain streams found running down the natural mountain passes and ravines where more vegetation is supported and contrasts sharply with the wind-blown rocky areas.
On the back side of the Andes starting at around 10-12,000 feet in elevation, the cultivation begins. Potatoes and corn are the predominate crops with many varieties of each grown in the region. Even at 10,000 feet in elevation, the mountain sides are terraced to support cultivation.
Small farmers bring their potatoes, corn, maca, and other crops to local markets in the small towns and cities in the area to sell.
In this area, maca is a main food staple much as beans, rice and potatoes are
in the diet of the local Andean people.
In fact, maca has become so popular in Peru over the last 5-7 years, that many prepared maca products are now manufactured within the Junin district (or the maca is sent down to manufacturers in Lima who prepared them). From wine and liquers, to instant beverage drinks, maca honey, jam and preserves... maca is widely consumed in the area and throughout Peru.
In the heart of the Junin district, past Junin City and about 41 km from Tarma lies the small town of San Pedro de Cajas. This district is known for its famous cotton, wool and fiber tapestry and weaving.
Most live in adobe houses within the town, but the area land surrounding the town has been divided into family cultivation plots. It is this area where Raintree's maca is cultivated by families in San Pedro.
These maca fields lie at an elevation of 4284 meters or 14,055 feet and have been freshly turned to begin planting maca seeds (in the early spring - late October 2005)
Maca is typically grown as an annual crop and two plantings for two successive years are cultivated and then the land is allowed to lay fallow for four years. It takes approximately 8 months for the plant to grow from seed to a harvestable root. These pictures of maca are from small plants that have reseeded themselves naturally in the field and are only about 3 months old.
At around 7 months, the plant begins to produce very small flowers which then go to seed. Soon afterwards, the maca is harvested, washed, and allowed to dry partially in covered tents to help hold the heat in from the sun and protect them from rain and cold winds. Then the entire plant is put into large net sacks and agitated. This breaks apart the drying seed heads and releases the seeds onto a tarp below. The collected seeds are then used for the next crop.
After the seeds are harvested, the maca roots are spread out to dry completely, then are graded and separated by size and quality.
Once completely dried, the sorted maca roots are then sacked and stored in concrete block warehouses until they are transported to Lima for further processing.
The success of the year's maca crop depends on various factors... including the right amount of rainfall as well as protecting the growing crops from grazing sheep and vicuna in this land without any fences.
Cultivating maca provides a much needed and much appreciated income to the families participating in growing it in San Pedro, Peru.
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