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