Rural women in Peru sow water to collect it tomorrow
By Mariel Jara (IPS)
HAVANA TIMES – “When I was little, we didn’t suffer from water scarcity like we do now. Today we are experiencing more droughts, our water sources are drying up and we cannot stand idly by, ”Kely Quispe, a small farmer from the community of Huasao, located half a mile away, told IPS. time from Cuzco, the capital of the ancient Inca Empire of Peru. .
She is one of 80 members of the Agroecological School of the Flora Tristan Peruvian Women’s Center, a non-governmental institution that has worked for the reclamation of water sources through traditional techniques known as sowing and harvesting. water in this part of the southern Andes region. from Cuzco.
Muñapata, Huasao and Sachac are the three Quechua-speaking rural communities of the province of Quispicanchi, located between 3150 and 3800 meters above sea level, which have so far benefited from the project. The feminist-oriented institution promotes nature-based solutions and community work to address the problem of water scarcity and inadequate water use practices.
“We want to strengthen water security as well as gender equality because they are two sides of the same coin,” Elena Villanueva told IPS. On December 14, she presented in this city the results of the initiative, the first phase of which was carried out in 2020 and 2021, with the support of the Basque Agency for Development Cooperation and Mugen Gainetik, an international association for cooperation with developing countries of the South as well. based in the northern Basque region of Spain.
According to the National Water Authority (ANA), Peru is the eighth country in the world in terms of water availability, with a rich hydrodiversity of glaciers, rivers, lakes, lagoons and aquifers. However, various factors such as inefficient water management and unequal territorial distribution of the population, in addition to climate change, make it impossible to meet consumption demands.
“The lack of water seriously affects families in rural areas as they depend on small-scale agriculture for their livelihood. The melting of glaciers as well as the increase in frequency and intensity of droughts due to climate change are reducing water availability, ”Villanueva explained.
This impact, she said, is not neutral. Due to gender discrimination and the social disadvantages they face, it is rural women who suffer because their already heavy workload is increased, their health is compromised and their participation in training and education spaces. decision making is even more limited.
“In addition, although they are the ones who use the water to ensure food, hygiene and health, and to irrigate their crops, they do not participate in decisions concerning its management and distribution,” he said. she pointed out.
The expert said that precisely in response to the demand of women farmers in the agroecological school, where they receive technical and rights training, they are focusing on reviving the water harvesting techniques used in the old Peru, while promoting the equal participation of women in rural communities in the process.
She said about 700 families living in poverty, some 3,500 people – about 11 percent of the population of the three communities – will benefit from the ongoing work.
So far, this work has focused on afforestation of 15 hectares and the construction of six “cochas” – the name of small earthen ponds, in the Quechua language – and an infiltration ditch, as part of a plan which will be expanded with other initiatives over the next two years.
The ditch, one kilometer long in sections of 10 meters, 60 centimeters deep and 40 centimeters wide and located in the upper part of the town, collects rainwater instead of letting it run down the slopes.
The technique allows water to slowly infiltrate in order to feed natural springs, high altitude wetlands or small native meadows, as well as cochas.
In their community work, villagers use local materials and greenhouse thermal blankets to help retain water. In addition, they used excavated earth to increase the height of the ditch, to prevent rainwater from running over it.
Although the ditch received rainwater this month (the rainy season begins in November-December), the impact on the ecosystem should be more noticeable in about three years when the cocha ponds will have increased. year-round water, helping villagers avoid shortages in the dry season from May to October.
Several community members told IPS that they will now be able to collect water from the ditch while taking care of the soil, as the heavy rains wash it away and leave it without nutrients. Some 150 agricultural plots will also benefit from a sprinkler irrigation system, thanks to the project.
As agriculture is the main source of livelihood for families and this activity depends on rainwater, the main impact will be the availability of water during increasingly prolonged dry periods to irrigate their crops, ensure crops and avoid hunger, both for the villagers and their livestock.
Eucalyptus and pine, big consumers of water
The mayor of the community of Sachac, Eugenio Turpo Quispe, told IPS that this is the first time that seeding and water harvesting practices have been carried out in his area. “We hadn’t had the chance before; this work started thanks to the women who proposed the reforestation and the construction of cochas and ditches ”, he declared.
The local leader lamented that due to misinformation two decades ago they planted pine and eucalyptus in the highlands of his community. “They have dried up our water sources, and when it rains, the water disappears, it does not seep in. Now we know that out of ten liters of rain that falls on the ground, eight are absorbed by the eucalyptus trees and only two come back to the ground ”, he explained during the day that IPS spent in the community. .
Turpo Quispe said that they had seen afforestation and the construction of cochas and ditches in other communities, but did not know how to replicate them, and that it was only thanks to the Center Flora Tristán project that they were able to implement these solutions to tackle the serious problem of shrinking water sources.
In Sachac, the three techniques were adopted with the participation of women and men in communal work which began at six in the morning and ended at four in the afternoon. “Side by side, we planted native plants, dug ditches and transported stones for the cochas,” said the mayor proudly.
In this community, 9,000 plants of queuñas (Polylepis) and chachacomos (Escallonia Resinosas) – tree species used in the days of the ancient Inca empire – have been planted. “These trees only consume two liters of rainwater and return eight to Pachamama (Mother Earth),” said Turpo Quispe. As part of the project, the community built fences to protect crops and relocated grazing areas for their animals.
“We have planted seedlings and in 10 or 15 years our children and grandchildren will see all our green hills and with living springs so that they do not suffer from a lack of water,” said the mayor.
Kely Quispe from the Huasao community is equally optimistic: “With water we can irrigate our potatoes, corn and vegetables; increase our production to have enough to sell and have more money; take care of our own health and that of the whole family, and prevent the spread of covid. “
“But just as we use water for life, it is also up to us to participate on an equal basis with men in irrigation committees and community councils to decide how it is distributed, stored and managed,” she added.
The decade of water security
Villanueva of the Flora Tristán Center said it was important for the country’s local and regional authorities to commit to ensuring water security in rural areas as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The International Decade of Action: Water for Sustainable Development has been declared for 2018-2028 by the United Nations and SDG6 is dedicated to water and sanitation, to ensure universal and equitable access for all , protect and restore water-related ecosystems and support the participation of local communities in improving management and sanitation.
“At the national level, public policies aimed at sowing and recovering water must be strengthened because they revive the ancestral knowledge of communities, involving sustainable practices with low environmental impact that help guarantee food security for families”, said she declared.
However, noted Villanueva, to achieve their goals, these measures must not only promote equal participation of men and women, but must also be accompanied by actions to close the gender gap in education, l ‘access to resources, training and violence that hinder the participation and development of rural women.
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