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Lomas of Asia: Opting for the conservation of the last desert oases
Graciela Ramirez Ramirez
7/21/2016
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Lomas de Asia Project is a conservation proposal of the biodiversity and the cultural heritage of the lomas managed and undertaken by a campesino community.

In the Pre-Columbian era, with the sound of the pututo or seashell, a ceremonial instrument of Peru, special meetings were called for or announced important events. This time, its sound has called for, at the bottom of hill Macho, the residents of the campesino community of Asia, in the province of Cañete, south of Lima, to offer a ritual to Mother Earth, and thank that for another year the lomas of Asia are painted yellow with the flower of Amancaes, initiating the season of coastal lomas.

With the arrival of the southern winter, between the months of June and September, certain places of the coastal desert —between pampas, low height hills and streams, that go from sea level until approximately 1,000 meters above the sea level— they re-emerge turning into a green field after a long period of aridity.

The lomas have low fogs, light rain and winter drizzles as the main water source, which allow for the emergence of the foliage during this time of the year, which is why they are also known as “fog oases.”

On July 16, in the lomas of Asia, residents and visitors from different parts of the country, gathered in the Gonzalillo ravine to celebrate the beginning of the loma season and in order to appreciate closely this natural sanctuary that holds a vast diversity of species between flora and fauna, characteristics of these coastal ecosystems that are not only found during winter, but also during the rest of the year.

In this regard, the spectators got to know the tasks and efforts of conservation and preservation of the biodiversity extended in a total area of 10,000 hectares of lomas, permanent work that has been and is being carried out by the campesino community of Asia through distinct collaborators.

The term Asia, comes from the Quechua expression asya, which means “cheer up, go on” and has distinguished the members of the campesino community which, since 2011, is in charge of the Lomas de Asia Project with the purpose of recovering, conserving, and preserving the lomas, which possess an important and prodigious biodiversity.

“I am proud of being an Asia resident and that we can enjoy the lomas and I wish that they remain conserved so that our children can also enjoy this. My father, who is one of the founders of the community, would feel proud to see that these lomas belong to the campesinos of Asia who fought for these territories,” pointed out Juana Chumpitaz Ávalos, member of the campesino community of Asia, to Latinamerica Press.

Vulnerable ecosystems
Lomas ecosystems only exist in two countries of the South Pacific coast; they extend from the department of Trujillo in Peru, up until the north of Chile in Atacama. In Peru, the Ministry of the Environment has estimated a total of 67 lomas: nine in the north, 23 in the central coast and 35 lomas in the south, which include an area of 783,000 hectares.

The lomas were declared as fragile ecosystems according to article 99 of the General Law of the Environment and public authorities were called on to adopt measures of special protection to these spaces considering their characteristics, unique resources and special weather conditions. Regardless of this, currently the lomas are constantly jeopardized mainly by the population pressure, land traffickers that lead invasions, and in some cases by excessive grazing and logging which cause the reduction of species and their territory.

“These lomas are a genetic bank, and are in state of recovery. We are recovering its species of flora and fauna, and if the lomas are recovered, we are going to have clean oxygen, water, vegetation. We are going to have a healthy environment and, on the other hand, little by little tourism is getting to know the area and have tours, we count with qualified guides. More people are coming to get to know the lomas of Asia and everybody is happy, that is what is good, we are yielding all the work that we have carried out until now,” explains Iván Reyna Ramos, a native from Asia and director of the project, to Latinamerica Press.

For the project, a diagnostic and identification of the place were realized first. Over time the plan of plant and zone bird studies was carried out and taras — native trees from Chile, Colombia and Peru, whose fruit is a red sheath that is used as dye, and by the food and pharmaceutical industries —, were planted as part of a pilot plan to reforest. After several attempts to find the most adequate mechanism to maintain the lomas alive, especially in the dry months, fog catchers were placed, a system of panels with plastic nets that allow to capture raindrops contained by the fog.

“This was the community`s biggest dream.” A fog catcher system of 6,000 square meters was placed, with the intention of obtaining 50,000 liters of water in the winter season. And we surpassed it, we had to make emergency pools in the high zones, because in the first year 1 million liters of water were achieved during winter season,” Elias Ávila, a guide and loma keeper in Asia who followed the water harvest process for the project, tells Latinamerica Press.

With the momentum of this project, in the lomas of Asia it has been possible to recover a total of 127 species of flora that are endangered such as begonias, orchids, and pullas of lomas, as well as wild papayas and the trumpet flower, which grows during the summer. In addition, 777 hectares have been reforested with more than 8,000 plantations of tara.

Starting from the expeditions carried out by the photographer Alejandro Tello, biologist Pablo Merino and bird-life specialist José Huaroto have managed to identify 39 species of birds that are both inhabitants or migratory. Four species are endemic to Peru, the thick peak miner, the chirigüe from Raimondi, the Peruvian miner and the cactus canastero (Asthenes cactorum).

“It was a bit difficult to hire professionals because the cost is high, however I have friends who are archaeologists, biologists, and I relied on them, who also opt for the conservation and preservation. I called them and they did not hesitate to help. We always try to compensate their efforts in the investigations of the lomas of Asia,” points out Reyna Ramos.

“Just like universities who want to carry out their research, a contribution is asked in exchange, not in terms of money but in knowledge; we want results and that is the information,” affirms Reyna Ramos, who has submitted the book Estudios de las Lomas de Asia (Studies of the Lomas of Asia), which compiles all the information left by professionals from different areas of research about the lomas.

Festival of the Flower of Amancaes
The flower of Amancaes is an endangered species that survives in the departments of Apurimac, Cajamarca, Cusco, and Lima. It is the traditional flower of the loma ecosystems which stands out because of its intense yellow color and flourishes only once a year between three to five days.

In the Asia community, the recovery of this endemic specie of the lomas started four years ago, and the proposal to proclaim the flower of Amancaes as a representative symbol of the lomas ecosystems emerged. Since then they are given recognition every year in a festival, remember that its flowering period marks the welcoming of the lomas season, once it paints the green meadows of the coastal desert yellow during the winter.

That is how the celebration of the Flower of Amancaes Festival begins, where the campesino community of Asia receives hundreds of visitors in the lomas who arrive to participate in activities such as the payment to the earth ceremony, birth-watching, a gastronomic and craft fair, as well as taking walks through the distinct routes in the lomas, with the purpose of twinning the campesinos and visitors and harmonize them with nature.

“An intimate relationship between the Asia campesinos and the lomas exists. We are tied to a blood heritage. As Asia residents, in order to have these lomas, we fight a lot to recover and conserve this territory. We fought and conquered for that,” said Reyna Ramos.

The campesinos of Asia now have the target to achieve that the 10,000 hectares of lomas which they fought for and whose conservation they carried out with resources of their own community and with external support administered by the Asia community, become recognized by the state as Private Area of Conservation administered by the Asia community, category which would allow a more regulated and legitimate protection for their lomas.

“We are looking for that category and it is not going to be difficult to achieve it,” assures Reyna Ramos, who looks at the lomas and their people, and observes the results of all the effort that implied undertaking this project. —Latinamerica Press.


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A ritual of gratitude to Mother Earth marked the commencement of the Flower of Amancaes Festival this year. / Graciela Ramirez Ramirez
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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