Indigenous Farmers Harvest Water with Small Dams in Peru’s Andes Highlands

Local residents of Churia, a village of some 25 families at more than 3,100 meters above sea level in the highlands of the Peruvian department of Ayacucho, are building simple dikes to fill ponds with water to irrigate their crops, water their animals and consume at home. CREDIT: Courtesy of Huñuc Mayu

Local residents of Churia, a village of some 25 families at more
than 3,100 meters above sea level in the highlands of the Peruvian
department of Ayacucho, are building simple dikes to fill ponds
with water to irrigate their crops, water their animals and consume
at home. CREDIT: Courtesy of Huñuc Mayu

By Mariela Jara
AYACUCHO, Peru, Jun 29 2020 (IPS)

A communally built small dam at almost 3,500 meters above sea
level supplies water to small-scale farmer Cristina Azpur and her
two young daughters in Peru’s Andes highlands, where they face
water shortages exacerbated by climate change.

“We built the walls of the reservoir with stone and earth and
planted ‘queñua’ trees last year in February, to absorb
water,” she tells IPS by phone from her hometown of Chungui,
population 4,500, located in La Mar, one of the provinces hardest
hit by the violence of the Maoist group Shining Path, which
triggered a 20-year civil war in the country between 1980 and
2000.

The queñua (Polylepis racemosa) is a tree native to the Andean
highlands with a thick trunk that protects it from low
temperatures. It is highly absorbent of rainwater and is considered
sacred by the Quechua indigenous people.

In Chungui and other Andes highlands municipalities populated by
Quechua Indians in the southwestern department of Ayacucho, the
native tree species has been the main input for the recovery and
preservation of water sources.

Eutropia Medina, president of the board of directors of Huñuc
Mayu (which means “meeting of rivers” in Quechua), an NGO that
has been working for 15 years to promote the rights of people
living in rural communities in the region, one of the country’s
poorest, explains how the trees are used.

Women from several Andean highlands communities in Ayacucho, Peru, have played a very active role in harvesting water, including protecting the headwaters of streams. In the picture, a group of women and girls are involved in a community activity in Oronccoy, a village about 3,200 meters above sea level. CREDIT: Courtesy of Huñuc Mayu

Women from several Andean highlands communities in Ayacucho,
Peru, have played a very active role in harvesting water, including
protecting the headwaters of streams. In the picture, a group of
women and girls are involved in a community activity in Oronccoy, a
village about 3,200 meters above sea level. CREDIT: Courtesy of
Huñuc Mayu

“The women and men have planted more than 10,000 queñua trees
in the different communities as part of their plan to harvest
water,” she tells IPS in Ayacucho, the regional capital. “These
are techniques handed down from their ancestors that we have helped
revive to boost their agricultural and animal husbandry activities,
which are their main livelihood.”

Medina, previously director of the NGO, explains that the
acceleration of climate change in recent years, due to the
unregulated exploitation of natural resources, has generated an
imbalance in highland ecosystems, increasing greenhouse gases and
fuelling deglaciation and desertification.

The resultant water shortages have been particularly difficult
for women, who are in charge of domestic responsibilities and
supplying water, while also working in the fields.

Huñuc Mayu, with the support of the national office of Diakonia, a faith-based Swedish
development organisation, has provided training and technical
assistance to strengthen water security in these rural Andean
highland communities where the main activities are small-scale
farming and livestock raising.

The queñua, one of the most cold-resistant trees in the world, is native to the high plains of the Andes, and is culturally valued by the Quechua indigenous people. It is a great climate regulator, controls erosion and stores a large amount of water, which filters into the soil and from there nourishes the springs of the Andean highlands. CREDIT: Esteban Vera/Flickr

The queñua, one of the most cold-resistant trees in the world,
is native to the high plains of the Andes, and is culturally valued
by the Quechua indigenous people. It is a great climate regulator,
controls erosion and stores a large amount of water, which filters
into the soil and from there nourishes the springs of the Andean
highlands. CREDIT: Esteban Vera/Flickr

This is an area that has recently been repopulated after two
decades in which families fled the internal conflict, during which
Ayacucho accounted for 40 percent of all victims.

“Huñuc Mayu helped organise the returnees and people who had
remained in the communities, and we promoted the planting of fruit
trees and connections to markets,”

She explains that “in this process more water and technical
forms of irrigation were needed, so through a water fund the
communities created projects for the conservation of basins and
micro-basins in the area.”

The impact is significant, she points out, because in the past
families depended on the rains for their water supply and during
the dry season and times of drought they had a very difficult time
because they could not irrigate their crops or water their
animals.

Denisse Chavez is gender officer at the Peruvian office of Diakonia, a Swedish organisation that promotes rights in vulnerable communities around the world. In Peru it partnered with the NGO Huñuc Mayu to revive ancestral knowledge of the Quechua communities of the Andean highlands and thus strengthen water security for local inhabitants. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Denisse Chavez is gender officer at the Peruvian office of
Diakonia, a Swedish organisation that promotes rights in vulnerable
communities around the world. In Peru it partnered with the NGO
Huñuc Mayu to revive ancestral knowledge of the Quechua
communities of the Andean highlands and thus strengthen water
security for local inhabitants. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Today, things have changed.

Churia, a village of just 25 families at more than 3,100 meters
above sea level, in the district of Vinchos, is another community
that has promoted solutions to address the water shortage
problem.

Oliver Cconislla, 23, lives there with his wife Maximiliana
Llacta and their four-year-old son. The family depends on
small-scale farming and animal husbandry.

A complex, integral and sustainable solution

The NGO Huñuc Mayu is strengthening water security by reviving
ancient indigenous techniques for harvesting water from streams in
the highlands department of Ayacucho. The work is being carried out
in that area to ensure sustainability, because it is where the
rivers emerge and where water must be retained to benefit families
in the middle and lower basins, the institution’s director, Alberto
Chacchi, an expert on the subject, tells IPS.

“It’s a complex system that not only involves containing water in
ponds but also recuperating natural pastures that capture water
when it rains and form wetlands and springs, building rustic dikes
to contain water in ponds, planting native tree species and
conserving the soil,” he says.

To illustrate, he mentions Alpaccocha, which was a high-altitude
wetland that dried up when there was no rainfall. But since the
village of Churia built a dam it has become a pond containing
57,000 cubic meters of water.

The total cost including communal labour has been 20,000 soles –
about 5,700 dollars. “A reservoir of that size would have cost the
state three million soles (854,000 dollars) because it would use
conventional technology that also alters ecosystems and would not
be sustainable,” he says.

In order for local families to use water from the pond, two pipes
with a valve have been placed in the dike, and the valve opens when
rainfall is low, letting the water run out as a stream so people
can place hoses downhill and use it for sprinkler irrigation.
Communal authorities manage the system to ensure equitable
distribution.

Each dike also has diversion channels at both ends that allow
excess water to flow out once the pond is full, thus keeping moist
the wetlands that used to dry out at the end of the rainy
season.

“Here we depend on the alpaca, using its meat to feed and
nourish the children, making jerky (dried meat, ‘charki’ in
Quechua) to store it, and when we have enough food we sell to the
market. We spin the wool, weave it and sell it too,” he tells IPS
over the phone.

His family has been able to count on grass and drinking water
– absolutely vital to their livelihood – for their 50 alpacas
and 15 sheep thanks to work by the organised community.

“We have been working to harvest water for three years,” he
says. “We’ve built dikes, we’ve been separating off the ponds
and planting queñua trees on the slopes of the hill. Last year I
was a local authority and we worked hand in hand with Huñuc
Mayu.”

Cconislla reports that they dammed six ponds using local
materials such as grass, soil and clay – “only materials we
found in the ground.” They also fenced off the queñua
plantations.

“Now when there is no rain we are no longer sad or worried
because we have the ponds. The dam keeps the water from running
out, and when it fills up it spills over the banks, creating
streams that run down to where the animals drink so they have
permanent pasture; that area stays humid even during times of
drought,” he says.

In addition to these ecosystem services, trout have been stocked
in one of the ponds to provide food for families, especially
children. “As a community we manage these resources so that they
are maintained over time for the benefit of us and the children who
will come,” he states.

Cristina Azpur, 46, has no animals, but she does have crops that
need irrigation. She runs the household and the farm with the help
of her two daughters, ages 11 and 13, when they are not in school,
because she does not have a husband, “since it is better to be
alone than in bad company,” she says, laughing.

For her and the other families living in houses scattered around
the community of Chungui, the dam ensures that they have the water
they need to grow their crops and raise their livestock, she
says.

“I am about to plant potatoes, olluco (Ullucus tuberosus, a
tuber whose leaves are also eaten), and oca (another tuber). This
month of June we have had a small campaign (special planting of
some crops between May and July), and we use water from the
reservoir to ensure our food supply, which is the most important
thing to stay healthy,” she says proudly.

She politely adds that she cannot continue talking because she
must help her daughters, who study remotely through programmes
broadcast on public television, due to the lockdown in place in
response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the neighbouring town of Oronccoy, home to some 60 families
and founded in 2016, Natividad Ccoicca, 53, also grows her
vegetables with water from a community-built reservoir.

She and her family, who live at an altitude of over 3,300
meters, have been part of an experience that has substantially
improved their quality of life.

“It used to be very hard to fetch water,” she tells IPS.
“We had to walk long distances and even take the horses to carry
the containers that we filled at the springs. Now with the
reservoir we have water for the farm, the animals and our own
consumption.”

She also explains that because of the measures to curb the
spread of COVID-19 there is greater demand for water in homes.
“Can you imagine how things would be for us without the
reservoir? We would have a higher risk of getting sick, that’s
for sure,” she says.

Women and men work communally to install hoses and irrigate their crops using a sprinkler system, and also for human consumption, in Oronccoy, a village of 60 families in the Peruvian Andes highlands. CREDIT: Courtesy of Huñuc Mayu

Women and men work communally to install hoses and irrigate
their crops using a sprinkler system, and also for human
consumption, in Oronccoy, a village of 60 families in the Peruvian
Andes highlands. CREDIT: Courtesy of Huñuc Mayu

These experiences of harvesting water are part of Huñuc
Mayu’s integral proposal for the management of hydrographic
basins using Andean techniques in synergy with low-cost
conventional technologies to strengthen water security.

Medina highlights the involvement of the communities and the
active participation of women, who in the Quechua worldview have a
close link with water.

“We see important achievements by the communities themselves
and the local people,” she says. “For example, the water supply
has expanded in response to the demands of agricultural production
and human consumption.”

Medina adds that “women have been active participants in
protecting the sources of water and the work involved in raising
livestock has been reduced to the benefit of their health. These
are major contributions that improve the quality of life of
families” in this historically neglected part of Peru.

The post
Indigenous Farmers Harvest Water with Small Dams in Peru’s Andes
Highlands
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Indigenous Farmers Harvest Water with Small Dams in Peru’s
Andes Highlands