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  • Writer's pictureJaneth Bonilla Andrade

The Revolution of Achik: A Kichwa Woman and her Impact on Healthy Eating through Ancestral Knowledge

In southern Ecuador, in the community of Molino Huayco, Achik Zaruma, a Mindalae woman and educator, deeply connects with the land and ancestral agricultural knowledge. From a young age, she learned the secrets of agriculture from her grandparents, not only cultivation practices but also fostering a spiritual connection with nature.


 

I'm excited to start this series of interviews with female farmers who merge their ancestral knowledge with agriculture! In an increasingly globalized world, these voices and ancestral practices are treasures that deserve to be highlighted and protected. I hope these interviews not only inspire but also generate meaningful dialogue about the importance of these women and their contributions to agricultural science.

 

Achik Zaruma's education began at the 20 de Agosto de Molino Huayco community school, where she received her first school lessons surrounded by her community. However, her community did not have high school-level education, so as she progressed in her studies, Achik saw the need to access a broader education. Therefore, she walked every day from her community to school in the El Tambo canton, where she was able to broaden her academic horizons. Later, she continued her education at an institute, specializing in naturopathy. Currently, her quest for knowledge has led her to explore ancestral knowledge and community nutrition, thus enriching her understanding of our traditions and their relevance in the modern world.


Driven by a deep curiosity about ancestral knowledge and traditional medicine, her educational journey led her to the Amantay Wasi University, where she found a perfect space to explore her interests. This institution is dedicated to the study and preservation of indigenous traditions. There, Achik had the opportunity to immerse herself in a world of ancestral knowledge. Her studies at Amantay Wasi not only expanded her understanding of our ancestors' medicinal practices but also allowed her to connect with a community of scholars and practitioners committed to preserving their cultural heritage.



Promoting the diffusion of native Seeds through bartering


Motivated by bartering as a means to spread the benefits of native seeds and preserve cultural heritage, Achik faced various challenges. Initially, she tried to educate the children of her community about quinoa, but many rejected it out of ignorance. When she tried to sell the grain locally, she found no buyers. However, Achik persisted and took her message to agroecological fairs in several Ecuadorian cities. This experience prompted her to co-found the first agroecological fair in Quito, promoting dialogue between the countryside and the city and cultivating consumer awareness. Her activism attracted other professionals in the agroecological field, and together they created the "Quinoa Saludable" (Healthy Quinoa) restaurant, consolidating their commitment to nutritious and sustainable eating.


At the restaurant, she gathers a wide variety of products from the countryside, her community, and farmers committed to caring for their lands and crops. Their mission is to safeguard the seeds of the various agroecological floors, from grains to tubers, vegetables, and emblematic Andean plants such as quinoa. The name "Quinoa Restaurant" reflects our commitment to promoting a healthier lifestyle through mindful eating and the preservation of ancestral traditions. This establishment not only offers natural products and seeds but also workshops and menus that celebrate the diversity and richness of our land.



Amaranth, the seed that transformed her life


Amaranth, a plant historically valued for its nutritional richness and culinary versatility, but for Achik, it became a symbol of commitment to preserving traditions and promoting community health. In her quest to understand, take responsibility, and convey the message of conserving native seeds, she came across amaranth plants, which were seen as weeds in the garden. However, she decided to reclaim them, plant them, and water them, despite the mockery of those who did not understand their value.


She turned this act into a ritual, sowing the seeds with intention and purpose. Although initially the harvests were modest, the impact of these transcended the physical, as Achik tells us:


"...the seeds multiplied in dreams, in people, and in deep connections that enriched my life. This experience has not only allowed me to harvest thousands of amaranth seeds but has also opened doors for me, I have traveled, I have met people, and I have received messages that have filled my heart with gratitude and joy".

Amaranth has thus become a tangible link to her mission of preserving ancestral wisdom and promoting a healthy lifestyle in her community.


Achik has had the opportunity to participate in enriching academic exchanges, such as the one with the University of Oregon, where she and other Ecuadorian researchers explored new horizons and established links with the academic community. Additionally, she has shared her experience in international gatherings in Peru, Bolivia, and Mexico. These encounters have been inspiring spaces that have allowed her to feel part of a global community committed to preserving their traditions and building a sustainable future.



Empowering women through seed conservation


One of the highlights of Achik's work is her focus on the role of women in preserving ancestral knowledge and promoting healthy eating. Recognizing the crucial role that women play in many indigenous communities as guardians of seeds and culinary traditions, Achik has dedicated herself to empowering women to become leaders in their own communities.


Through her dedication and passion, Achik Zaruma is leaving a lasting legacy, inspiring others to preserve and value the earth's riches that are intertwined with indigenous cultures for future generations. Her life is a living testament to one person's ability to make a difference, not only locally but also internationally.


In Achik's words:

"Our connection to the earth is our strength, and together, we can cultivate a healthier and more sustainable future for all."

Achik connects cooking with spirit


"Discovering the pleasure in traditional cooking has been for me more than an investigative task; it's an experience of connection with our roots. Asking elders about forgotten recipes and enjoying every step of the cooking process has become a way of celebrating our culture. I understood that cooking is not an obligation but an opportunity to connect with the earth and our traditions in a genuine and enjoyable way."

 

Information about the author


Janeth Bonilla Andrade is an agricultural specialist at a financial institution, focusing on the northern and central regions of Ecuador. Her work involves developing agricultural strategies and solutions to support farmers in these areas. Additionally, she is the co-founder and vice president of the Kichwa Institute of Science, Technology, and Humanities (Fundación Kichwa Institute of Science, Technology, and Humanities, KISTH). The foundation is dedicated to promoting social projects in science and technology aimed at communities, integrating and valuing ancestral knowledge in each initiative. Follow Janeth on Instagram @janethbonilla4.

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