What do the cultivation terraces consist of and what were those of the Incas like?

The ancient technique of farming terraces originated in the Inca times, who at that time were one of the civilizations that best knew how to take advantage of the land. This practice keeps some secrets that consist of giving great importance to the adaptation of the climate and the ecosystem. The geographical complexities become a secondary problem in the middle of the development of the technique, how is this possible? Both the layout of the space and the purpose of agriculture play an important role.

Despite the years that the Inca culture has been extinct, some of the terraces built by these indigenous people remain today; creations that still guarantee the right to food of the peoples of the Andean highlands. The fact that they are maintained and continue to be used demonstrates their great utility, so it is important to know what this modality deals with in agriculture.

What are crop terraces?

Also known as agricultural terraces, it is the result of using the practice of cutting the flat areas of a mountainous landscape. With the aim of producing crops, especially corn.

This type of agriculture has been used all over the world, from Asia in rice fieldsup the steep slopes of the Andes in South America. But perhaps its most famous use is in rice fields. Since there are few areas large enough for this type of crop, which needs a large amount of water and a flat area that can be easily flooded. Therefore, crop terraces are the smartest ways to harvest.

If we speak in terms of agronomic practices, crop terraces are constructions on mounds of land across a slope with a flat channel. Or it can also be on an esplanade to stop soil erosion and control water runoff. That is, they are steps that are made on slopes in order to have adequate surfaces for planting.

Terrace farming system

Rice fields in Asia

One of the main reasons for using terrace farming is to make more efficient use of water resources. If you have land with a slope and you want to cultivate it successfully, one of the best alternatives is to apply this system that has been present since colonial times.

A terrace system requires the construction of transverse and flat flanges on the ground by means of slopes. In turn, these incorporate a channel above or around the edge to maintain control of water runoff. This resource is captured on the terraces and then spread through the field or rice paddy.

Terraces are typically angled down a slight degree to allow excess water to run off to the next level. And especially in regions with lack of rainfall and absorbent soilsthese are built with level surfaces.

Basically, there are three types of crop terraces. The most common type is the terrace, since it minimizes the slope of the land. And the runoff water channel drains from the top to the bottom on the individual platforms. In this way, they guarantee a homogeneous and uniform distribution of water.

On the other hand, there is the contour with constant degree, which was first used in American fields in the 1930s with the aim of control erosion. This was built in such a way that it follows the contours of the terrain with a gentle slope. And there is also the parallel terrace, which is built and spread out in parallel.

How do crop terraces work?

The operation of the terraces is based on the use of land that otherwise would not be used for growing plants. The steps that are built in this type of agriculture are effective for the control of the water erosion. Since by reducing the speed of the water, it makes the infiltration process better, thus contributing to the increase of available water in the soil profile.

In fields that are typical of mountains or hills, with intensity of slopes, greater soil erosion can also be observed. And this is because the greater the intensity of the slope, the speed with which the water runs off is greater and therefore, erosion is also greater.

Terraces for crops directly prevent runoff from being rapid and erosion from originating on the ground. To achieve this, they use a channel and a board whose purpose is reduce the length of the slope, or that it prevents the water that cannot infiltrate from reaching erosive speed, since the terrace channel interrupts its violent descent.

In turn, the terraces evacuate to a collector channel, which is well filled because it receives all the water that did not infiltrate. This collector channel ends in a natural drainage, stream or ravine.

Terrace farming techniques

The techniques used for the construction of these terraces come from the native peoples of the Andean region. These platforms on hills and mountains are built following “level curves”, which consist of lines joining points of equal height. Or it can be with a small slope that allows the water to run off without the ability to erode the soil.

In order to determine the correct distance between terraces, the slope of the land, the frequency of precipitation, the type of soil and the crop to be grown must be taken into account. And furthermore, for a terrace system to be effective, a combination of other practices must be used. Among these, the most important is the contour plowing, strip cropping and crop rotation.

The management of each of these techniques is carried out according to the capacity of use of the land. A water management system is also required to store excess water.

According to the techniques used for the construction of terraces, it may vary whether a plant manages to prosper or not. Therefore, the adaptability of these systems also depends on factors such as the climate, topography, erosion and stoniness.

Today it is common to find even fruit trees in terraces. But this system in any of its variants that seems modern is the legacy of those who used it hundreds of years ago to ensure their survival.

How were the cultures of the Incas?

The Inca culture had a special concern to find ways to improve the conditions of the soil until it became fruitful. For this reason, terrace cultivation was the most widely used planting technique by these ancient farmers in Peru and other Andean regions. A practice that allowed the use of land that seemed unusable for planting corn, potatoes and other foods.

Factors such as the variety of climate and difficult terrain led the Incas to seek various solutions, thus finding many ways to deal with the problem. Of course, the best known measure was the terraces or platforms, which were of great importance. Although they demanded to mobilize a lot of labor, the Inca state could do it with relative ease.

Over time, they developed more knowledge and technologies about plant cultivation. In this way, agriculture became the first activity that supported all economic life of the great empire. Such is the case of the terraces of Moray, in the department of Cusco, which is believed to have been an experimental center for the management of wild species.

Among the main crop plants that the Incas took care of; they find each other The grains such as corn, kiwicha, quinoa and kañiwa. legumes such as beans, ñuña, pallar, tarwi and pajuro. Estate in which maca, achira, sweet potato and yacón are considered. tubers such as olluco, papa, mashua and oca.

Likewise, cucurbits like fall and pumpkin. you would spice like ají and rocoto. Y fruits such as cherimoya, papaya, sweet cucumber, aguaymanto, tomato and pacae. Among others that can be found as part of the biodiversity of the area.