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Zau Zoura /SD Ayer - Post n°15 : Agriculture

To decipher the current landscape you need to understand the historical lifestyle of Anniviers peasants.

To decipher the current landscape you need to understand the historical lifestyle of Anniviers peasants.

To decipher the current landscape you need to understand the historical lifestyle of Anniviers peasants. Immediately noticeable are the two valleys separated by the old Stand Moraine. The village was built away from the sun in the more shaded of the two. South, the landscape retains numerous traces of the old agro-pastoral system. To imagine how the land was used in the olden days, you must remember there were no roads and that people traveled by foot or on mules. Only in 1912 did an actual road suitable for motor vehicles reach Vissoie before another in 1957 reached Zinal. Inhabitants of Anniviers and their animals were constantly “on the move” on dirt roads. Another feature of the landscape is the patchwork of plots and their ownership, resulting from sales, transfers, land divisions upon death or even additions through marriage and gifts.

As it was impossible to collect all the fodder in one big farm, each plot included a barn-stable where animals came to feed on hay in addition to grazing in surrounding grasslands. Once the fodder had been consumed, men and beasts moved to another plot.

Consequently, the main village had to be established in the midst of an agricultural land, close to a torrent and springs but it had little use for sunshine. In order to conserve farmland, larch wood house were built close together and separated by narrow alleys. The neighbouring land was devoted to vegetable crops. As it required a large amount of care and a lot of water, produce was grown in nearby gardens. Storage and transformation facilities such as granaries (propped on stilts) for cereals or other food, as well as a mill and an oven were located in the heart of the village whereas fields lay beyond.

On the best sunny mountainsides, albeit more difficult to irrigate, cereals were grown including wheat and barley, but mostly rye. Dry stone walls were erected to retain the soil and divide the plots. Meadows were mowed as far up as forests. Animals would move to high mountain pastures from June to September while sheep, goats and mules grazed the poorest grasslands. It was a time when every little bit of land used to be farmed up to the alpine stage.

As early as the XVth century Anniviards aquired land in the plain around the town of Sierre which they used almost exclusively to grow grapesvines. They built villages they occupied part of the year, thus adding another stage to their annual migrations. These ancient villages make up the old district of the town you see today. The building of roads and the decline of mountain farming changed the native population’s priorities. To make their efforts worthwhile farmers started to focus on the best and richest lands, leaving the areas vacated to be reclaimed by the forest.

Text : Manu Zufferey, mountain hiking guide
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