During the last two decades, various non-governmental organizations have strongly encouraged Bolivian farmers in the Altiplano region near Lake Titicaca to resume the ancestral agricultural practice of constructing raised fields. In addition to improved drainage and possibilities this practice affords for sub-irrigation, advocated benefits of this system traditionally include frost mitigation and high crop yields. Until recently, reliable data to assess the extent of these benefits were unfortunately lacking. In this context, field experiments on raised fields were designed and carried out at two locations in the Bolivian Altiplano to obtain reliable potato yield and temperature data. Observed yields ranged from 2.73 to 10.80 t ha-1 at the first site, where salinity caused significant yield variability (R² = 0.79). At the second site, yields per raised platform varied between 8.25 and 33.45 t ha-1. However, comparable yields were obtained in flat control plots in spite of a mid-season frost, and the minimum temperatures differed only by 1ºC in the conventional plots relative to the raised fields. These results suggest that, under the experimental conditions, the potential benefits of raised fields in terms of frost mitigation or increased yields might only be observable in exceptionally bad years, when extreme frosts wipe out entire potato crops on conventional fields. Nevertheless, it is argued that in spite of these marginally supportive observations, raised-field agriculture may still be a viable option for farmers to consider if the water-filled channels between the raised fields are managed for fish and fertilizer production.
raised fields; productivity; frost mitigation; crop