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“Cultivation” of lakes
Latinamerica Press
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Recognition for the practice of growing and harvesting rainwater.

The practice of “growing and harvesting rainwater to face declining soil moisture and recharge rate of headwater aquifers,” promoted by the Bartolomé Aripaylla Association (ABA) and the rural community of Quispillaccta, in the southern Andean department of Ayacucho, has been awarded first place in the Contest for Best Practices in Facing Climate Change in rural areas, under the 2014 National Environmental Award of the Ministry of the Environment.

The award ceremony was held on Dec. 2 in the Platinum Garden Auditorium as part of the Voices for Climate Meeting — a space for exposition and exchange promoted by the government to raise public awareness of the importance of climate change — where the Quispillaccta community received from the hands of the Minister of the Environment Manuel Pulgar Vidal this recognition for their important work. The Voices for Climate Meeting was held in parallel to the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was held in Lima from Dec. 1 to 12.

20 years ago, the Quispillaccta peasant community, located in the Chuschi district of Ayacucho between 2.800 to 4.600 meters above sea level, began using community work to “breed” lakes and promote the practice of cultivating and harvesting rainwater.

With this practice, the Quispillaccta community members seek to respond to the problem of water shortages in communities adjacent to the basins of the Pampas and Cachi-Mantaro rivers. These shortages are caused by, among other factors, low water recharge rates and the rapid melting of the snow that feeds their primary sources, which in turn are effects of climate change, which causes other negative consequences such as increased hail damage and frost severity.

Among the other factors that caused the overall dryness of the community grasslands with loss of vegetation covering the hills, and the decreased flow of rivers and near disappearance of water springs, it should be highlighted the armed political violence that began in the Chuschi district in 1980 and ravaged the country until 2000, causing destruction of protected water springs and farm abandonment due to peasant murders, disappearances and forced migration; other factors include the loss of “affection” and respect for the water of a sector of the population that has neglected festivities and rituals, and academia and government institutions’ undervaluing of local knowledge and worldview for growing water and of natural landscapes.

That is why ABA — created in 1991 by agronomic engineers Magdalena and Marcela Machaca —, which provides technical advice and financial support for the water recovery process in the Quispillaccta community, promotes a development approach with a focus on Good Living (Sumaq Kawsay) of the entire living community (human, nature and deities) that qualify as “harmonious life and dignity” in their own way of living life centered on agriculture. This approach involves recognizing the economic and social value of Andean peasant agriculture, that is, the shift towards agroecology and food sovereignty as well as the development of agricultural festivals and rituals and an education based on the dialogue of knowledge.

The cultivation and harvesting of rainwater (growing water) is performed by adapting natural hollows to store runoff water until the accumulation forms “artificial lakes” and then building dikes with stones, clay and ashes. The community also plants native flora to increase the flow of water springs to forever preserve these water springs and wetlands, which they call “mothers of water”. They also build natural fences and wire around the springs and wetlands to prevent animals from overusing them and so these water sources can regain their water levels. This is all done with the active participation of community members and community authorities of Quispillaccta.

“It is making water where there is no water, with the mother plant that calls water and harvesting rainwater in natural vessels. Thus far we have 71 stable lakes and additional 10 are forming, a total of 81 lakes,” says Magdalena Machaca, executive director of ABA.

Since 2000, ABA expanded its activities to neighboring communities and started using heavy machinery with community participation to improve the dams of rainwater lakes or for the construction of new ones. Its goal is to create up to 200 artificial lakes.

But ABA not only harvests water, it also harvests public recognition for its work. Asked about what this award means to her, Magdalena Machaca said: “It´s a nice experience because it is about the recognition of this ancient knowledge that still guides our communities ... Many times our communities have been called backward ... they call them archaic communities, but this is not true. Instead, we [use] that wisdom to address the problem of climate change. That is why this feels great and [feels] that our wisdom, such as in cultivating and harvesting rainwater, is worth a lot.” —Latinamerica Press.


Andean community creates lakes through community work. (Photo: Bartolomé Aripaylla Association)
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