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Resilient agriculture: training Peruvian farmers

Subsistence farmers living in mountain villages have traditionally grown potato, wheat, barley and maize (© Practical Action)
Subsistence farmers living in mountain villages have traditionally grown potato, wheat, barley and maize
© Practical Action

Bordered by two mountain ranges, the Callejon de Huaylas - Alley of Huaylas - stretches for 150 kilometres in the Ancash region of Peru. Subsistence farmers living in mountain villages have traditionally grown potato, wheat, barley and maize but production has increasingly been affected by climate change. "Constant periods of drought, destabilisation of land due to strong and intense rains, crop diseases, frosts that fall throughout the year and the destruction of irrigation canals are caused by climate variability," explains Alcides Vilela, Project Coordinator for Practical Action Peru. This situation is exacerbated in areas where there is little vegetation and steep slopes.

With little knowledge about new technologies that would increase the resilience of the agriculture sector, smallscale farmers are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In order to increase the resilience of rural communities to extreme weather events, Practical Action, with financial support from the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), has helped 600 families to strengthen their livelihoods by adopting several agricultural adaptation strategies.

Greater productivity

Faced with erratic rains and drought, one adaptation measure is irrigation, either sprinkler or drip systems. A network of pipes and hoses takes advantage of the sloping land to distribute water from small reservoirs to farmers' crops. With this technology, farmers who grew one vegetable crop a year are now able to grow three and productivity has increased by 50 per cent. Six irrigation systems were initially installed as demonstration systems and after obtaining municipal financing another 14 systems have been installed by local communities.

Since 2010 the committees have recovered guinea pig sets and redistributed them twice (© Practical Action)
Since 2010 the committees have recovered guinea pig sets and redistributed them twice
© Practical Action

Eighty sets of guinea pigs (comprising ten females and one male) were also given to four 'Revolving Fund' committees to distribute between their members. Since 2010 the committees have recovered sets and redistributed them twice. Guinea pigs were chosen because they have a fast reproductive cycle, they only eat forage and market demand is high. But to further increase the resilience of farmers, Practical Action has been cross-breeding the guinea pigs to ensure that they are better adapted to frosts and droughts. Information about feeding techniques and how to construct protective shelters is also provided. Vilela explains that this revolving fund of animals is increasing, mortality has decreased and the quality of the meat has improved.

Revolving funds also distribute native varieties of seed which are better adapted to extreme climate variability. After harvest, each beneficiary then transfers starter seed to another farmer who, in turn, assumes responsibility for passing on the seed. As a result of the revolving funds, family incomes have increased by more than 200 per cent. "The revolving funds have contributed to the stabilisation of farming against climate variability by expanding and diversifying the stock of native varieties of potato, maize, forage, barley and wheat, which are more resistant to plagues, drought and freezing weather," Vilela states.

Training is also given on crop rotation and soil conservation. "The condition of the soil in this region requires a major effort to make it productive, so we have worked to improve the soil and counteract the impact of excessive rainfall in the rainy season, which causes soil erosion and the loss of nutrients," Vilela adds. "Practical Action established procedures for recovering and expanding native seed stocks which are resilient to drought, excessive moisture, extreme temperatures and pests and diseases." Other technologies introduced include hydroponics, which allow communities to plant fruits and vegetables in different seasons, and aquaculture. "By diversifying and rotating crops, and using new technologies, frosts, heat waves and excessive rains no longer destroy everything, improving the resilience of local communities," Vilela explains.

Sustainability

The revolving funds are complemented by training on crop rotation and soil conservation (© Practical Action)
The revolving funds are complemented by training on crop rotation and soil conservation
© Practical Action

To sustain the adaptation capacity of local communities further, Practical Action established the School for Resilient Leaders in 2009. Thirty-one leaders from four communities have received extensive training in ten areas of agricultural and livestock farming production, with a focus on risk management and climate change adaptation, in order to help families improve and adapt their livelihoods. With approval from the Ministry of Education, the leaders have received formal accreditation as highland agriculture technicians.

By organising producer organisations, knowledge has also been transferred between farming communities. "There is evidence that the communities are building their livelihood protection strategies, while at the same time interacting with other communities to successfully transfer what they've learnt." Irrigation techniques, for example, are being replicated in many other communities. "Although spare parts for the irrigation systems can be costly, communities have taken the initiative and improvised parts using local materials. Some people have also taught themselves how to install and assemble the irrigation system. This is a good indicator of future sustainability," Vilela says.

"Communities have been empowered, are willing to make changes, and have begun to have their voices heard," Vilela says proudly. "The resilience of poor committees to climate change has been recognised and Practical Action's livelihood approach has been incorporated into sub-national plans, including the Ancash Climate Change Strategy." Peru's Ministry of Economy, meanwhile, has included a budget line for disaster management and emergency response in agriculture, and a government policy on disaster risk management has been approved.

Date published: May 2012

 

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