Lima: A Tale of 43 Cities

We biked along the coastline of Lima, past the surf shops, around the artisan neighborhood, through the tourists, and among the hundreds of bustling cars, trucks, and taxis on the busy highway. At one point, we made a quick stop at an enormous shopping mall called Larcomar, which our guide explained was one of the most visited attractions in all of Peru, second only to Machu Picchu. Hordes of people filled the shopping center as the tantalizing smells of the various restaurants filled my senses. I looked back over my shoulder at the rest of the Miraflores neighborhood. Grass, towering trees, and vibrantly colorful flowers lined the streets and dominated the numerous parks. Tourists walked, chatted, and laughed casually with one another as locals walked their dogs, played tennis in one of the courts, or watched their kids play in the park. Signs warning passersby that the area was being monitored by cameras or asking to “please remove your hand from the car horn” were posted on street corners. Expensive restaurants were built into the side of the cliff and sunset vista points dotted the coastline. It reminded me of Granada, Spain—a small city with a well-maintained downtown and tourist area with easily accessible, well-lit, and “safe” neighborhoods full of relatively wealthy inhabitants. This neighborhood, I learned, is not the norm, but the exception in Lima.

Park in Miraflores

We biked into Barranco, the “neighborhood of the artists”… and more tourists. It gave off a slightly different, but similarly Granada-like vibe. We glanced over the various artists’ pop-up shops filled with hand-made jewelry and imaginative sculptures. We enjoyed city-commissioned “street art” and well-placed graffiti along the wall of an underpass. A singer and musician set up and performed beautifully along the pedestrian bridge as tourists huddled around the street vendors selling keychains, t-shirts, and other knick-knacks. As we continued past the artist’s neighborhood of Barranco, carrying our bikes through the crowds of people, we saw a very different scene.

Street art in Barranco

Our path south along the coast opened up to include sandy beaches, tailgate-like lines of cars, and not tourists, but Limeñas, laughing, hugging, eating, and enjoying the summer afternoon. “See all these people selling street food?” our guide asked. “Welcome to the real Lima.”

Beach in Chorrillos

Elderly women sat on coolers along either side of the sidewalk, selling sandwiches, popsicles, and water. The sun danced off the crests of the waves as children ran around their families, through the hot sand. Dozens of mototaxis seemed to appear out of nowhere, filling the streets on our left. Our guide motioned towards the steep street towards our left. “Ready to take the mountain?” We nodded in unison.

In 1535 Francisco Pizarro founded the capital city of Lima, which later became the focal point of the part of the Spanish Empire that spanned Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chile. During the 1980s and 1990s, the city was menaced by terrorist threats and attacks by the Shining Path and the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. Today, Lima is divided into forty-three different districts with a total population of nearly ten million, or one-third of the entire country’s population. However, online blogs and travel sites advise travelers to stay in San Isidro, Miraflores, or Barranco and to be “wary” of the other neighborhoods, labeling them as “dangerous, especially at night.” These are the neighborhoods that do not have lawns that get watered every morning. There are no Larcomar shopping malls or happy-go-lucky tourists. Instead, there is poverty, evidenced by shanty towns, poorly-constructed homes, no running water, and trash lining the streets. In Miraflores, the flowers and greenery make you forget that Lima was constructed in a desert climate. In Chorrillos and other similar neighborhoods, you remember.

Panting and sweating, we reached the top of the hill. There is no greenery here, just dirt, the beating sun, and severe poverty. Shantytowns and squatters line the side of the hill. A Christ the Redeemer replica, Cristo del Pacífico, donated by Odebrecht, the Brazilian company under fire for corruption scandals, overlooks the homes in the valley below. A gift from the Brazilian company to the country of Peru, it today serves as a symbol of corruption, casting its shadow on those below.

In Lima, some enjoy flowers, grass, and trees, while others live in the shadow of corruption in the desert heat.

Christ the Redeemer replica



Hung, Wendy. “Lima Neighborhoods: A Breakdown Made for Travelers”. July 21, 2014.

Lima History.

Associated Press. “Peru: Anti-graft vandals target statue donated by Odebrecht”. January 27, 2017.


Spanish Colonial Influence on Religion in Peru

Upon my arrival in Peru, I could feel the deep influence of the Spanish colonialists on Peru in many respects – billboards in Spanish and enthusiastic Spanish songs playing in the taxi. The habits and everyday language of Peruvians reflect Spanish influence. Spanish colonization also had a great influence on the religion and culture of Peru.

The interweaving of two cultures gives Peru’s Andean culture its unique characteristics: one culture is Spanish colonial culture, and the other is Inca civilization. In 1532, 169 Spanish soldiers led by Francisco Pizarro defeated the Inca empire after years of preparation and battle. From then on, the Spanish ruled the former Inca empire, and some Inca natives were forced to retreat to remote mountain areas. For the rulers, the use of religious tools played an indispensable role in consolidating their position. Pizarro was ordered to build Catholic cathedrals, churches and monasteries in the land of the Inca. In addition to the massacre of the Inca, the Spanish colonialists also used Catholicism as a tool for infiltration, pushing the local people to believe in God. Now in Peru, almost 80% of the population considers itself Catholic. However, some local people who are Catholics also believe in the Inca religion.

We had a chance to visit the Plaza de Armas in Cusco. Located in the Andes, the ancient city of Cusco became the center of a complex Inca capital, with unique religious and administrative functions. It was surrounded by clearly visible agriculture and other economic activity. When the Spanish conquered the land in the 16th century, the invaders kept the original buildings, but at the same time they built baroque churches and palaces on the ruins of the city. The Spanish did not completely destroy the Inca temples and other structures. They demolished structures such as the Incan Temple of the Sun and built their own churches and monasteries on top of them. In this sense, there are two styles of architecture, two civilizations in Cusco.

In the Plaza de Armas, we visited the Basilica Cathedral. The various types of statues and decorations in the cathedral are amazing feats of imagination. Interior chapels are adorned with elaborate religious statues and relics. The Last Supper is one of the most famous paintings in this cathedral. This painting has a very local flavor. Jesus and the apostles are seated around a table similar to Western depictions of the scene, but the food on the table is one of the favorite foods of the local people, guinea pig (cuy), with chicha morada (a purple maize drink) in an Incan cup. From an aesthetic point of view, the cathedral is of great value. From a religious point of view, we have to note that behind the extravagant religious expression of the conquerors was the Inca’s untold suffering.

All in all, the Spanish colonialists had a great influence on Peruvian religion, which led to a startling intermingling of the Incan and Spanish civilizations in Peru. This mix of cultures, however, also reminds us of the coldness and cruelty of colonial invasions.

By Wei Ge


[1] Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire:

[2] Category: Spanish Colonial architecture in Peru:

[3] History of Peru, Area Handbook of the Library of Congress:

Ensuring Top-Down Policy Coordination for Peru’s Andean Farmers

Non-Governmental Organizations, NGOs, globally and in a variety of social and economic contexts, often find themselves filling functional holes within a society or community—-in terms of the provision of economic and social services and support—-that the governments of the countries they work in cannot or are not willing to fill. This is no different in Peru.

Any variety of top-down (this being the keyword), complex corruption or distinct policy issues can preclude NGOs achieving long-term goals. “Corruption” is a very vague term in any context that it’s employed, but from a top-down governmental perspective, it may be a matter of imbalanced concentrations of power at different levels of government resulting in poor policy coordination. From the standpoint of the director of the Cusco office of Asociación para la Conservación de la Cuenca Amazónica (ACCA), a limited number of people at the highest level of government in Peru apply the law broadly as it regards economics and social services. This means that the national government makes consequential economic and social policy decisions in exclusivity.

Accordingly, it would seem that this policy-making exclusion is what can create policy discord from the top of the policy chain (the national government) to the bottom of it (local NGOs spearheading new economic and social initiatives, for example). This discord would diffuse from Peru’s national government, to regional and municipal governments, and to local governments. This could be pictured as a cascade of policy confusion and inconsistency, with local NGOs being at the base of the waterfall, taking the brunt of the effect and not being able to achieve long-term planning. This sounds abstract (it is), but one specific example of this kind of top-down policy incongruity in Peru illuminates this issue.

Peruvian NGO Sierra Productiva, based in Cusco, supports Peruvian farmers in the Andes and elsewhere in Peru by providing farmers needed farming resources, technical guidance and support, and continued monitoring of farming operations. In the town of Unión Chahuay, the NGO has had a very successful relationship with a farmer named Don Francisco, who, through the help of the organization, now operates several micro plots of crops in the backyard of his home. This can be considered small-scale or micro- farming.

He draws water from a natural fountain seven kilometers from his home into his piping and hoses, the latter releasing fresh water into two-liter bottles with small, patterned holes that effectively irrigate his micro soil plots of growing vegetation. He sells the plots’ agricultural products to both local and external markets (e.g., regional ones). He also allows buyers to purchase products directly from his home.

As a result of Sierra Productiva’s work with Don Francisco and others in Unión Chahuay over the past 4-6 years, malnutrition in the town has dropped from 95% to 7%.

While the above information certainly appears to indicate progress for the town of Unión Chahuay, and may indicate potential for expansion of this kind of farming locally and regionally, underlining all of this are some systemic policy issues with regard to regional and local governmental support of Sierra Productiva’s work there.

(As with the information provided further above regarding the nature and progress of farming in Unión Chahuay, the following details were provided directly by Don Francisco or Sierra Productiva representatives themselves during the class’s trip to the town and Francisco’s farm).

Don Francisco has several micro plots for his farming operation, but the first two plots were started by a soil and farming expert that Sierra Productiva has utilized for its support of local farmers. This individual is referred to as the ‘Yachachiq’ in the town, a person involved in farmer-to-farmer training. Not only did the Yachachiq help start Don Francisco’s first two plots, which included advising on the soil to use for the future plots and how to manage it, he has provided Francisco intimate technical knowledge on the specific ingredients to use for biocides and fertilizer. Of note: all of these farming methodologies are completely organic.

The Yachachiq and Don Francisco have been spreading this knowledge through Unión Chahuay, and so local farmers beyond Francisco have begun their own micro farming operations implementing the expertise of the Yachachiq.

Based on the Yachachiq and Unión Chahuay’s unique, broadly beneficial relationship, one would imagine that the Peruvian government would have collaborated, cooperated, or at least supported Sierra Productiva’s and the Yachachiq’s efforts in Unión Chahuay; however, that appears to not be the case.

While the governor of the regional government (covering Unión Chahuay) has approved of Don Francisco’s farming methods, techniques, and operations, and has urged them to be adopted more widely in the region, what has happened is that regional and local government officials have visited the farm to essentially catalogue this knowledge and likely use it elsewhere without proper consultation with the town or the Yachachiq. In fact, these government officials have outright refused to work with the Yachachiq at all—-despite this individual being a soil expert. This seems to me to imply that the regional and local governments don’t want to work with Sierra Productiva, who must manage any fallout from its work being translated elsewhere without proper consultation, collaboration, cooperation, or support. This consultative gap would ensure that Sierra Productiva’s (and the Yachachiq’s) specific methodologies were left behind in a vacuum, that vacuum being Unión Chahuay, despite any larger local or regional translations of methodologies being potentially identical. Any local or regional government translation of knowledge could also become isolated, after the fact.

As such, this could be a case of technical knowledge being taken, but not unified into a policy framework that involves all stakeholders for the purposes of broad and consistent application of expertise to a common problem; the problem here being determining how to maximize small farming yields. The initial organic farming practices/processes approval from the regional governor appears to only have been nominal.

So, what reasons can be cited for the seeming lack of regional and local government support of the Yachachiq and perhaps Sierra Productiva more generally? While the national government does not appear to be directly involved in this issue, this certainly is a top-down policy problem. On the surface, it may have to do with the fact that the Yachachiq and Sierra Productiva’s farming model, while using a fresh water source and being generally operationally efficient as well as market-friendly, overall relies on organic resources as this could be perceived to present scalability issues. Not all local, regional, or national farmers, for that matter, may be open to organic processes for farming, as they may hold the view that using chemical pesticides and fertilizer, for instance, produce higher agricultural yields. More yields mean more money, and that is a fact that would not escape both farmers and government officials. Of course, this is a perception that does not necessarily jive with reality. Even in this example, Don Francisco made clear that prior NGOs working with him destroyed any possibility of yields from his plots at the time due to their use of chemical pesticides and fertilizer. His soil was simply degraded to the point of infertility.

Ultimately, there is a legitimate debate to be had about the use of such chemically-induced methods in micro-farming vs. macro-farming, but for the former, which poorer Peruvian farmers rely on, controlled organic processing may be more efficient. So, the issue here may be what the priorities of the regional and local governments covering towns such as Unión Chahuay are. Perhaps they find little reason to work with the Yachachiq or Sierra Productiva given this issue of organic farming scalability, but then again, why review, approve, and suggest the expansion of these organic farming processes?

In any case, different levels of Peruvian government analyzing and potentially planning to more widely implement farming practices spearheaded by a local NGO and one of its experts, while essentially disregarding collaboration with, cooperation with, and support of, that very same NGO and one of its experts, clearly indicates the conditions for or the presence of discordant top-down policy coordination. A reality is that any local NGO cannot rely on donations and grants indefinitely in any substantial expansion of its work and initiatives. At some point, at least for expansion to a country’s regional and national levels, some level of coordinated and consistent support from the national government is needed. This support can come in many forms.

For Sierra Productiva, if it indeed wants to expand its success in Unión Chahuay, even more locally in surrounding towns, let alone regionally as well as nationally, robust and stable support from local regional governments will be necessary. This could take the form of monetary and general resource support that ensures methodologies shared remain consistent. More distinctly in this context, however, all relevant stakeholders—-different levels of the Peruvian government and NGOs, for starters—-should make a collective decision on the scalability of Unión Chahuay’s organic farming processes. Depending on that decision, top-down policy coordination relying on bottom-up feedback and assistance regarding specific and harmonized organic and/or chemically-induced farming practices could emerge. As organic farming processes based on the Yachachiq and Sierra Productiva’s models expanded locally and regionally (and possibly nationally), that policy coordination would ensure that all levels of government and relevant NGOs would be teaching, advising on, and monitoring the same organic farming processes. The same could apply to the use of chemicals, and where and when that use would remain the norm.

These conversations should start now, before organic farming knowledge in local and regional areas within the Peruvian Andes and elsewhere, and possibly on a national level, is effectively borrowed without consultation, relatively isolated, and inconsistent. Don Francisco’s learned methodologies and practices should serve as a foundational model.

By Nick Gregory

Alternative Energy in Small Andean Communities

The Andes is the longest continental mountain range in the world, spanning 4,300 miles along the west coast of South America. The Andes present a steep terrain with an average height of 13,000 feet (Wikipedia). In Peru, 32 percent of the country’s total population lives in this region and the majority of this subset are members of the indigenous Quechua people. Due to the remoteness of many parts of the rugged Andes, 75 percent of the Quechua people live in extreme poverty without access to sanitation facilities, clean drinking water, and electricity (Andes, 2015). In fact, according to the last Peruvian census in 2012, only 63 percent of rural populations in Peru have access to electricity compared to 87.2 percent of the country as a whole, meaning that urban areas are near fully electrified and rural populations including the Andes still lack this basic need (Ministry, 2012).

The government of Peru has laws and entities in place to develop and administer rural electrification. As early as 1955, the Electricity Industry Law granted incentives for private investment in electrification of Peru. By 1972, the government entity, ELECTRO PERU SA, was created via Decree Law No. 19521, the Electricity Regulation Law, to complete urban and rural electrification of the country. Urban electrification occurred much faster than in rural areas (Table 1) due to issues such as the remoteness of locations, which limited accessibility; lack of demand because rural populations have fewer inhabitants and are more spread out; and a lower purchasing power of rural residents, which disincentivizes the private sector from providing access (Ministry, 2012).

Year National Urban Rural
1993 54.9% 77% 7.7%
2007 74.1% 89.1% 29.5%
2012 87.2% >89.1% 63%

Table 1. Electrification Rate of Peru. Source: Ministry of Energy and Mines. “Plan Nacional De Electrificacion Rural (PNER) Periodo 2013 – 2022.” Dec. 2012,

The most recent law governing rural electrification was approved in 2007, the “General Law of Rural Electrification”. This law sets up a regulatory framework to promote sustainable development of electricity access in rural, isolated zones and frontier locations. Small hydroelectric power plants are the first choice of energy source, especially in the Andes where there is access to water resources and natural waterfalls. Small generator sets for temporary and emergency use are prioritized next. The third energy source prioritized by the law is solar energy, especially where there is a lack of water resources. Wind, to a lesser extent, is considered as an energy source, though for the Andes, wind is not a very viable option since the strongest wind resources are located in valleys and along the coastline (Ministry, 2012).

Source: “File:SolarGIS-Solar-map-Peru-en.png.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 23 Mar 2017, 17:12 UTC. 1 Apr 2018, 23:51 <;.

The Andes are currently a good source of water resources for hydropower due to annual snowmelt and the work of gravity. However, caution should be assumed for using hydropower for small Andean communities. As the climate changes in Peru, glaciers in the Andes will continue to retreat as temperatures increase and rainfall patterns change. As glaciers reduce in size the volume of water flow will decrease leaving small hydro facilities impractical (Fraser, 2009).

The Peruvian Andes are actually nicely situated for solar energy systems. The Andes are at a very high elevation, so they provide a colder climate which enables solar systems to work more efficiently, and there are fewer trees at higher climates, reducing shading (Hill, 2010). Figure 1 shows a solar irradiance map of Peru. The areas in orange represent areas of greater solar access. The areas in orange also correspond to the location of the Andes (and coastal areas).

Local non-governmental organizations have picked up on the benefits of solar energy for rural Andean communities. One such NGO, Sierra Productiva, has been helping spread the benefits of solar energy, especially solar thermal energy, to small Andean communities. Their project consists of providing a solar module, a battery, and training for necessary repairs for little to no cost. They supply one panel per home with enough power to supply electricity to three outlets for lights and/or electronics. This small gift, valued at 500 Peruvian soles (USD $154), can change a family’s world, which empowers them to maintain their system. They also provide solar thermal systems (Figure 2), which use the power of the sun to heat up water in the house. Hot water in high-elevation Andean villages can also be life changing. One success story from Sierra Productiva occurred in a small Andean village with very poor sanitation levels. Children and adults avoided bathing because the water was too cold. Lack of sanitation meant some children did not go to school and were more likely to get sick. Sierra Productiva installed a solar thermal system in the village, which was able to supply hot water for bathing. This simple installation allowed the community to bathe more regularly, a trivial concern for those of us in the developed world, but a life changing experience for these communities, all thanks to access to alternative energy sources such as hydro and solar.

By Jessica Frech


Fraser, Barbara. “Climate Change Equals Culture Change in the Andes.” Scientific American, 5 Oct. 2009,

Wikipedia contributors. “Andes.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Mar. 2018. Web. 31 Mar. 2018.

“Andes Region.” Compassion, 2015,

Hill, Cindy. “The Effects of Temperature on Solar Panel Power Production.” SF Gate, 2010,

Ministry of Energy and Mines. “Plan Nacional De Electrificacion Rural (PNER) Periodo 2013 – 2022.” Dec. 2012,

Pre-Colonial Cusco Culture: How the Inca Survive

Before becoming a backpacker hub, Cusco was the political capital of the Incan empire and the site of brutal Spanish conquest. The Inca Empire was one of the largest empires to ever exist; it was led by a succession of Incan lords or emperors and consisted of multiple indigenous groups. Instead of using brutal force to conquer new land, the emperor would send Inca envoys to record information about the land’s resources; he would affectionately address the native lords in order to persuade them to give tribute and recognize him as their leader. (Starn, Dregorgi, Kirk 56) The Inca ruled the indigenous Andean communities with respect; they provided indigenous groups with ample food, adequate work conditions, and time off for sickness and sacred festivities (Starn etc., 57). While the Inca empire characterizes this type of cordial conquest, several Cusqueños have adopted this narrative to characterize the Spanish conquest.

Our Cathedral Basilica guide communicated that many Cusqueños call themselves “mestizos,” and that the relationship between the indigenous Andean communities and the Spanish or those of Spanish heritage has been one of respect. This type of identity could be due to the fact that many Cusco residents would want to be considered as “mestizo,” or as “whiter” (De La Cadena, 44). Yet, as we walked around the Cathedral Basilica, several works of art seemed to subvert these notions of conviviality. Marcos Zapata’s painting of the “Last Supper” encapsulates a darker image of this “mestizo” culture vibrating throughout the Cusqueño population. The “Last Supper,” brings in notable features of Incan culture, such as guinea pig (raised for food in Peru), and represents Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador who overthrew the Incan Empire, as Judas. With the depiction of the ultimate traitor akin to the Spanish dictator, and of Jesus eating a traditional Incan meal, it forces one to confront this notion of cordiality.

While Zapata’s “Last Supper” can be seen as native Cusco culture claiming space in the colonial period, the power of the Temple of the Sun, or the Qorikancha, is veiled by the hegemonic structure of the Santo Domingo Church. The Incan Empire executed its power so efficiently that it would force migrations of specific ethnic groups in order to increase dependence on the Incan empire. It supported ethnic diversity throughout the empire in order to reduce uprisings (Wilson, 6). In order to enter into the Qorikancha, one must pay a fee at the Santo Domingo Church to enter, which feels almost as if one is complicit in supporting this type of veil. While the Dominican order has held “ownership” of the temple since the 1950’s, it should be noted that the Spanish hid the temple’s Incan art in order to disguise it as belonging to the Inca. To the Inca, Inti, the Sun God, resides in The Temple of the Sun and was regarded as one of the most significant gods due to his influence in agriculture (the Inca were formidable farmers; out of the 5,000 varieties of potatoes, the Inca cultivated 4,000 of those varieties). While the Spaniards pillaged and exterminated a majority of the Inca people, Inca culture still vibrates throughout the city. Like the remarkable 20-angle door leading into the Temple of the Sun, not even disaster can eradicate the rich legacy the Inca created.

An example of Spanish colonial murals used to hide Incan art

By Kara Phillips


De La Cadena, M. (2000). Indigenous Mestizos. Duke University Press.

Starn, O., Degregori, C. I., & Kirk, R. (2009). The Peru Reader: History, culture, politics. Durham: Duke University Press.

Wilson, K. (2017). Spiritual tourism as the new colonialism: the maintenance of colonial hierarchy in Cusco, Peru. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Missouri-Columbia). Retrieved from

Small Agriculture and Climate Change in the Andes

Nestled in the highlands of the Andes, Don Francisco’s eco-farm was able to collect abundant water for daily needs from a spring well, located on top of a hill seven kilometers away. Other small farmers in the area, however, may not have the same luck. More than two-thirds of Peru’s population lives in the dry climate of the coastal desert area and the Andes and enjoys only two percent of the country’s total renewable water resources. Melting glaciers due to climate change further exacerbate the water shortage. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that up to 77 million people in Latin America will be influenced by water stress by 2020s (Palut, 2007). With a growing demand for irrigation and drinking water, the situation is only going to get worse.

Glacier recession

The vast majority of the world’s tropical glaciers are located in the Andes and approximately 71 percent are within the territory of Peru (Vuille et al. 2008). However, recent observations show a 30 percent loss over a 30-year period due to the warming climate (Urrutia and Vuille, 2009). This is clearly unwelcome news for six million small farmers who are dependent on the glacial water. Historically, Andean farmers water their livestock, the world-famous alpacas and llamas, and irrigate farmland with rainwater in the rainy season and melting water coming from ice caps during the dry season. A dwindling water supply from retreating glaciers will make small farmers more vulnerable to precipitation variations and potentially could have devastating effects on local animal husbandry.

Precipitation and temperature change

The Andes mountains stretch along the South America continent and vary in microclimate as altitude and latitude change. One distinctive feature of the Peruvian Andes is seasonal precipitation. The range has a rainy summer from October to April and a dry winter from May to September. Small-scale farming in the area is to a large extent rain-fed. However, studies observe some abnormal changes in climatic conditions and precipitation: a slight decrease in overall rainfall and a higher occurrence of extreme weather. (Sanabria et al. 2014; Haylock et al. 2006). Calculations predict that by 2030 this region will see a 1°C increase in temperature and moderate change in growing season precipitation (Sanabria et al, 2014). These changes appear to be negligible, but in fact raise the risk of crop failures and could lead to great financial losses for small-holders in agriculture markets.

Potential solution

The most ideal solution, of course, is to stop global warming. But we all know that in the present situation this solution remains more an ideal than a reality. So for those small farmers who actually need to survive the warming climate, what choices do they have? An obvious approach is to adapt small farmers’ farming strategies to changing conditions. They need to increase awareness of climate change and actively mitigate potential risks such as planting crops with more varieties in the same field, combining crops and livestock production, and developing eco-farming (Perez et al, 2010).

Another, seemingly unusual, solution would be to restore some of the farming techniques of the ancient Inca people. The Incas were renowned for their adaptability to harsh climates and rugged terrain. They constructed terraces on the steep hills and mountainsides which were effective for water conservation and heat preservation. A development charity named the Cusichaca Trust has already seen some benefits from their efforts to restore Incan canals and irrigate 160 hectares of terraces using archaeological knowledge. The project has proved to be quite successful, yielding improved water access and grain output (Graber, 2011). This “learn from the old” approach may not appeal to everyone but it is worth consideration and more research.

By Bosen Qiu

Incan terracing at Pisac, Peru. Photo: T. Hilde


Palut, M. P. J., & Canziani, O. F. (2007). Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Vuille, M., Francou, B., Wagnon, P., Juen, I., Kaser, G., Mark, B. G., & Bradley, R. S. (2008). Climate change and tropical Andean glaciers: Past, present and future. Earth-science reviews89(3-4), 79-96.

Urrutia, R., & Vuille, M. (2009). Climate change projections for the tropical Andes using a regional climate model: Temperature and precipitation simulations for the end of the 21st century. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres114(D2).

Sanabria, J., Calanca, P., Alarcón, C., & Canchari, G. (2014). Potential impacts of early twenty-first century changes in temperature and precipitation on rainfed annual crops in the Central Andes of Peru. Regional environmental change14(4), 1533-1548.

Haylock, M. R., Peterson, T. C., Alves, L. M., Ambrizzi, T., Anunciação, Y. M. T., Baez, J., … & Corradi, V. (2006). Trends in total and extreme South American rainfall in 1960–2000 and links with sea surface temperature. Journal of climate19(8), 1490-1512.Sea Surface T

Perez, C., Nicklin, C., Dangles, O., Vanek, S., Sherwood, S., Halloy, S., … & Forbes, G. (2010). Climate change in the high Andes: Implications and adaptation strategies for small-scale farmers.

Graber, C. (2011). “Farming Like the Incas.” Smithsonian Institution, September 11.

What Is Poverty in Andean Agrarian Communities?

The Inca were known for their superior agrarian techniques in the ancient world. However, the Spanish conquest changed the history of wealth in today’s Peru. As Katie Murtough mentioned on a site visit, it might have been the case that 400 years of oppression and forced assimilation by the Spanish led to a disconnect from the Inca’s advanced agrarian techniques. The Incan terrace system for agriculture is mostly abandoned. Water irrigation solutions developed by the Inca are no longer in wide use. The Andean agrarian communities depend on limited water resources, which are barely enough to grow basic crops such as potatoes and corn. The inability to grow more crops means fewer products to sell, which in turn means limited income. The limited variety of crops means malnutrition, which continues to affect the younger generations. Poverty and low levels of education and malnutrition may also be connected to the exploitation and trafficking of young people from the region into illegal gold mines in the Amazon and mass agricultural lands in coastal Peru. This creates a further loss of human capital in the Andes and decreases local communities’ opportunities to break out of the cycle of poverty.

Historical reasons behind continuing discrimination in Peru

Spanish colonization and forced assimilation of the Inca and other indigenous communities in Peru came with a feeling of superiority by the white, European, ‘gringa/gringo’ Peruvians. Similar to other colonies, the Spanish thought their culture, socio-political systems, and religion were better than the locals’. They therefore forced or coerced locals to assimilate, accept Spanish rule, and convert to Catholicism. For generations since, although many local populations assimilated into Spanish rule, those who have resisted and those who do not look Spanish have continued to face discrimination.

Even though it has been almost 200 years since Peru’s independence from Spain, this racial discrimination continues. The majority of mestizos or those who identify closely with Europe live in Lima and the coast, where there are concentrations of wealth. Quechua-speaking communities are in the Andes, the poorest region, whereas Amazonian indigenous communities live in the Amazon forest region and also face poverty. The government’s neoliberal policies do not necessarily support indigenous communities either. The government invests heavily in mass agriculture in the coastal regions, where gringos own land and capital. On the other hand, despite producing 60% of Peru’s food, Andean populations get much less support from the government. The fact that 70% of the Andean people are employed in agriculture makes this lack of government support more serious for local communities. In the end, Andean communities are left with subsistence farming with little or no agricultural technology, ineffective agrarian methods and, as a result, continuing poverty.

NGO support in the region

Although the Peruvian government’s policy initiatives to support Andean agrarian communities, and public services such as education, health care, education in mother tongue, and infrastructure are limited, NGOs do step in. For instance, Sierra Productiva in Cusco is an organization that supports small-scale Andean farmers in incorporating better agricultural techniques and technologies. Don Francisco, a farmer in Unión Chahuay village of Cusco region expressed the changes in his family’s agricultural production after Sierra Productiva intervened. He stated that through practical workshops provided by Sierra, his family was able to increase soil productivity. Sierra Productiva also provided technical and financial support in providing water irrigation to the village from a nearby well. Through Sierra, families are also able to perform other economic activities, such as building and managing small tourist guest houses. Such houses not only provide an additional income for the families, but also enable them to share their experiences with outsiders, mostly researchers and students from around the world.

By Burcu Sağıroğlu

Economic and Environmental Migration from the Andes

Over the past decade, Peru has been one of the fastest growing economies in the entire Latin America, averaging a 5.9% annual GDP growth rate.[1] Every year over a million visitors make the trip to Machu Picchu, Peru’s most famous Incan heritage site. Despite the seemingly booming economy and increasing tourism, however, the country’s Andean region remains one of the poorest in the country. Outside of Cusco’s downtown bustling with tourists in trendy restaurants, many indigenous communities in the region live without basic amenities and services, have limited access to education, and suffer from malnutrition. In fact, Peru’s Human Development Index score in rural areas is closer to that of Angola than to the score in the country’s capital Lima.[2] In addition to entrenched economic issues, environmental changes in the region also contribute to poor living conditions and uncertainty about the future. Not surprisingly, these factors have led to intensive migration from the Andes to both the coastal cities and the resource rich Amazonian regions.

During our study abroad, we first learned about the extent of Andean migration on our stop in Puerto Maldonado. During his presentation, Oscar Guadalupe, director of the local NGO Asociación Huarayo, told us about the prevalence of sex and labor trafficking in the illegal gold mining towns. Most of the laborers and victims of traffickers come from poor rural areas in the Andean region. The members of these communities often have limited education and non-existent economic opportunities, which turn them into perfect targets for fake job advertisements. Young women and men are lured to the frontier Amazonian mining towns with promises of high salaries, yet many end up in conditions akin to modern day slavery. Despite the tough working conditions and fake promises, buses traveling on the recently completed Interoceanic Highway bring more people to the Amazon from the Andes every day. We observed this phenomenon on our drive to the illegal gold mining town La Pampa, which was teeming with new double decker buses, mining equipment shops, and openly advertised prosti-bars. According to Asociación Huarayo, informational campaigns warning Andeans about the true conditions in places like La Pampa rarely reach the smaller Andean communities that contribute the most migrants. Sadly, the government’s response to labor and sex trafficking of vulnerable Andean people is inadequate or downright negligent. Discrimination of indigenous populations by public officials, corruption, and lack of economic development in rural Andean communities all act as push factors in encouraging migration from Andes to Amazonia.

In a meeting with Director General Valerio Paucarmayta at the Cusco-based NGO Centro Bartolomé de Las Casas (CBC), we learned about the other factor pushing young people away from their home communities in the Andes – environmental change. According to CBC, roughly 40% of the Andean glaciers have disappeared over the last 50 years, reducing fresh water reserves and imperiling the future of agriculture in the region. Droughts and competition for water affect not only agricultural yields, but also lead to social strife and even violent conflicts. For instance, in 2016 prolonged drought led to the spread of rumors that a recently installed emergency dam rupture warning system was the cause of the disappointing rainfall. The system was soon destroyed by Quechuan-speaking villagers, and the scientists trying to fix it were later threatened with stones and sticks.[3] It is easy to see how such environmental changes can soon turn communities not only against outsiders, but also against each other. The issue extends to raising animals as well. Llamas and alpacas, which thrive in high altitudes, are particularly susceptible to increasing temperatures and lack of rainfall. The increasing difficulty of caring for these animals thus pushes young Andeans away from the traditional occupation of raising them.

Despite the seemingly bleak landscape of the rural Andean economy, we saw many bright spots which, if expanded, could significantly contribute to sustainable development of the region and reversal of the migration flows. First of all, it was heartening to find that despite threats and dangers, Asociación Huarayo was persistently working to assist sex-trafficking victims, many of whom are underage women from the Andes. Helping these young women return to their communities and spread the word about the true conditions of work in the mining towns is a huge first step in preventing human trafficking from rural Andean villages. Meanwhile, on a day trip with the NGO Sierra Productiva, we saw how some training and guidance turned one farmer’s – Don Francisco’s – small lot two hours away from Cusco into a versatile and self-sustaining farm. Supplemented with homestay tourism, the farm provided Don Francsco’s family with a reliable income that allowed him to make further improvements on his house and lot. In the nearby town of Yanaoca we also learned about dairy production and cuy (guinea pig) raising as potentially lucrative alternative economic development avenues. These industries could provide young Andeans with well-paid and stable jobs in their own communities. The positive initiatives that we saw taking place in the Andes seemed to be a great first step toward more sustainable economic growth of the region. With beautiful natural landscapes, a rich culture, thousands of varieties of potatoes and corn, and hospitable people, the Andes seem to have the perfect conditions for developing both agricultural and tourism sectors. With supportive and smart government policies, the region could be transformed from a migration source to a migration destination in Peru.

 Don Francisco on his farm

Don Francisco’s cuy farm

Don Francisco holding plants from a crop in his field near a gorgeous mountain lake

By Simona Griffith


[1] The World Bank. Peru Overview. 2017. Retrieved from

[2] Max Hoffman and Ana I. Grigera. “Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict in the Amazon and the Andes.” Center for American Progress. 2013. Retrieved from

[3] Nick Miroff. “A Flood of Problems.” The Washington Post. 2017. Retrieved from

Sexual Exploitation and the Work of Asociación Huarayo

A young, Andean girl examines the advertisement in front of her. It promises 1,500 to 2,000 Peruvian soles a week “to pretty, young women for a good job.” This is more money in one week than her family has seen in many. A man standing behind her also sees the ad. He considers the money his oldest daughter could make for the family with this job as the oldest children are often expected to support their families economically. Neither young girl nor father understands that this sign is not actually advertising a waitressing job at a restaurant as it and so many others also promise. Neither knows that if the young girl and the man’s daughter were to accept this work, they would be kept in a small, dark room, never paid their promised wages, and blamed for damages they did not cause. With this work, the girls may never see their families again, and that, even if they wanted to, they could not escape and return home because they will not know where they are. They are unaware of the mental and physical abuse they will endure and the deterioration of mental and physical health they will suffer.

They do not know that this sign is actually advertising for young, often underage prostitutes in a gold mining town where abuse, alcoholism, and sexual exploitation run rampant throughout the illegally settled communities. Operating under the nose of the national, regional, and local governments, these illegal gold mining towns are growing steadily, bringing in trafficked young men to perform the grueling labor of gold mining and trafficked young girls to work in the “prostibars.”

According to Asociación Huarayo, a non-profit founded in 1998 that works to further the rights of children and facilitate sustainable development, there are 30,000-50,000 unemployed individuals in the Madre de Dios region. This significant level of unemployment has driven the movement of large populations of workers into illegal gold mining where, according to Oscar Guadalupe of Asociación Huarayo, the only distraction is sex and liquor. This has led to the explosion of labor and sexual exploitation of children, rampant corruption, and criminal enterprises. In describing the brutality of life in the illegal gold mines and its town, we heard that when someone dies in the mine, they are sometimes left in the spot where they died, buried under future mining activities. Mothers search endlessly for their already buried sons as their daughters suffer daily beatings and rapes in the prostibars.

Even when Asociación Huarayo recovers girls in small raids and returns them to their families in the Andes, they remain in precarious positions. Economically, they continue to suffer in severe and enduring poverty. Psychologically, they are traumatized by what they have endured in the gold mining towns. They also suffer from habits they picked up in the mining towns such as staying awake in the evenings (when they were forced to work) and sleeping during the day; drinking and smoking; severe gaps in schooling and education; and lack of work and technical training. In some cases, the girls return to the gold mining towns, effectively returning to the harsh reality they became accustomed to. While Asociación Huarayo attempts to support these young women after their rescue by bringing them to a shelter and then back home, those girls rescued in large police raids often receive little to no support in the following weeks and months.

The regional and national governments have done little to stem the tide of trafficked girls into the region. While they continue to carry out police raids of the illegal gold mining towns in publicized shows of force, the severe corruption in these operations often means that most of the town has been tipped off and emptied out before the police arrive. While they destroy and burn down the shanty towns on television, the towns are built up again in the days immediately following the raid. In 2017, the various regions refused to report on the number of trafficked individuals in their districts, and anti-trafficking education campaigns are usually only carried out in Lima and other big cities. In effect, these campaigns fail to reach the high-risk populations in severely poor Andean communities.

However, Asociación Huarayo continues to fight and work for these children and victims of sexual exploitation. Although they receive verbal and physical threats to their organization, they champion the rights of children every day through their work and continued support.




Oscar Guadalupe, Asociación Huarayo

Mercury, Gold, and CINCIA’s work in Madre de Dios

As a developing country and emerging economy, Peru is constantly struggling with the tension between the push of economic development and the preservation of one of its most precious natural resources, its environment. The struggle between the two has come to a head in the last 10-15 years as gold-mining, once primarily a mountain region activity, moved to the Amazon basin, including the numerous, interlinking rivers in the Madre de Dios region.

Currently, Peru is the largest gold producer in Latin America and the sixth largest producer of gold in the world. Despite the fact that there are regulated and controlled techniques for gold mining, the sheer amount of gold and the subsequent income that it can provide has led to a large increase in the amount of illegal gold mining in the Madre de Dios region. The uncontrolled ramp-up of mining has fractured the balance between humans and nature in the region and continues to cause numerous downstream health effects that are still not understood.

While in Puerto Maldonado, along Peru’s illustrious Tambopata River, we had the chance to meet with Francisco Román, the Chief Scientist at Centro de Innovación Científica Amazónica (CINCIA), an organization that is grappling with the effects that this modern gold rush is causing in the region. CINCIA is a leading institution for environmental research and innovation in the Madre de Dios region. Through a joint partnership with Wake Forest University, USAID, and WWF, CINCIA generates scientific knowledge and integrates this knowledge to craft environmental management initiatives that promote sustainable development. CINCIA, with a dedicated staff of over 20 and through their expertise in forestry, propagating native trees, restoring nutrients to depleted soils, and understanding the damage done by mercury dumping, is devising solutions to reforest one of the most biodiverse places on earth while mitigating the damage to land, soils, water, and fish from increasing deforestation and mercury poisoning. Additionally, CINCIA works to build trust with government leaders, miners and farmers to use the land more efficiently and with less environmental damage. They hope that their results will serve as a long-range model for large-scale reforestation, better human, plant and animal health, and improved mining and farming techniques throughout the Amazon.

Dr. Román began his presentation by broadly discussing the challenges associated with gold mining in the region, but quickly homed in on the specific challenges associated with mercury and its utilization in the mining process. Mercury is a naturally occurring and potentially toxic element that poses a risk to human health and ecosystems. For humans, long term exposure to mercury has numerous risks, including damage to the central nervous system, digestive system, and immune system; to eyes, skin, and lungs; and can cause birth defects and infant development problems. Typically, mercury exposure for people living in the region occurs when individuals eat fish from the rivers that have high levels of mercury in their tissue or when they are working in industrial processes that utilize mercury.

While there are natural sources of mercury, it has been shown that human activities, including mining, greatly increase mercury concentration in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The studies that CINCIA conducts are immensely important for the region. As the environmental impacts of mining are studied and proved, more effective advocacy for change will be possible. While mercury and gold exploitation has been studied in the Amazon region since the 1980s, primarily in Brazil, Dr. Román shared that CINCIA has recently acquired its first machine for mercury testing and detection and has rapidly put it to use in the region. Soberingly, he shared that despite the rapid growth of gold mining in the Madre de Dios region, there were very few studies that systematically assessed the presence of mercury and its risks to the region and its inhabitants. Therefore, he was proud to share CINCIA’s latest results on mercury pollution as it related to fish species in the Tambopata River.

Looking ahead, CINCIA has a few future goals for their mercury related research. First is to create a risk assessment for the prevention of future environmental and human health threats in relations to mercury exposure. Second is to generate scientific evidence to better understand the flow of mercury in Madre de Dios in order to identify the impacts and implications for human health and ecosystems. And finally, to create a space for dialogue between various public and private institutions at the municipal, regional, and national levels that share information to help facilitate the implementation of public policies aimed at minimizing the damages posed by mercury. Hopefully, the work of CINCIA and others can help address the numerous challenges that mercury and gold mining will pose for the region in the future.

By Aaron Burr