Peru, Quechua, and Potatoes: Then and Now

It is believed that there are over 4,000 different native varieties of potatoes growing in the Andes, a region generally inhospitable to most other crops. In just my short time in Peru, I definitely enjoyed one new variety of potato every day.

In the time of the Inca, as our Cusco guide Maria-Elena told us, the Quechua people utilized terraces (pictured below) in order to create special micro-climates so that they could grow different crops they might not otherwise be able to at such altitude. Given particular changes in climate and land availability in recent years, these terraces present a possible solution to Andeans today who still rely on farming to survive, and gives them the opportunity to diversify the crops they grow and the nutrients they receive. Yet, many Andeans are still impoverished, and many migrate to other regions like Madre de Dios or Lima.

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An Andean hillside with terraces. (Photo credit: Amber Allen)

Recent research by Sierra Productiva discovered that while corn and a few other crops struggled at higher altitudes, many varieties of the potato were still thriving. Throughout this course, we also learned about other difficulties in growing crops, such as the fact that available water and land in the Andes is growing increasingly scarce. Once more, terraces seem to be a logical solution. Groups like Sierra Productiva have supported Andean farmers in recent years, so ideally partnerships such as these characterized by education about best practices and funding (done with great consideration to their culture and regional governments) will continue.

As we learned from our local guide, Maria, terraces were also used for many other purposes too. Some terraces, such as one of the smaller ones in Pisac, were ornamental. Another purpose of the terraces was to prevent erosion. Today, many of these historic terraces still remain in the Andes. Some are empty, while others are once more being utilized for farming. On the train to and from Machu Picchu, we saw some of these previously-established terraces, as well as some newer ones that had been recently created for farming efforts. Whether ancient or recent, terraces are clearly an important part of the Andean landscape in Peru, and play an important role in agricultural practices in the region.

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Terraces below a cliffside cemetery. (Photo credit: Matthew Regan)

By Amber Allen

Sierra Productiva

On the second day of our stay in Cusco, we drove a few hours outside of the city to meet Trinidad and her sister at their farm in the Andean village of Unión Chahuay. In this area of the Cusco region, Quechua, not Spanish, is the predominant language, and farming is the livelihood of many families. Farmers and their families in this region face many challenges, including food insecurity due to dry seasons and malnutrition as a result of producing mostly tubers and roots, which lack necessary proteins and vitamins (Bellatín & Muñoz, 2012). The inadequate government response to the needs of these families follows a long history of discrimination and neglect in these communities (Bellatín & Muñoz, 2012). This is where the Sierra Productiva program has filled a gap by strengthening the economic, cultural, social, and political capabilities of farmers like Trinidad and her sister. By helping farmers adopt better, more sustainable farming technologies and practices and by assisting them in building partnerships within the marketplace, Sierra Productiva contributes to the improvement of their quality of life, the preservation of their culture, and the empowerment of their community (Bellatín & Muñoz, 2012).

During our tour of her farm, Trinidad showed our group the many different crops she and her sister are currently growing: lettuce, which was brought by Sierra Productiva and that they now have all year round; several herbs used for tea and for cooking, including muña, an herb that treats gastritis, which they used to have to go further into the mountains to get; beets, carrots, and onions; lima beans; choclo, a type of corn with large kernels that is popular in Peru; and more. In their greenhouse, we saw grapes, lemons, cherry tomatoes, avocados, and peppers. Their livestock includes guinea pigs, chickens, and sheep. The greenhouse and livestock add much needed proteins and vitamins to their diet, which is significant in an area where the rate of malnutrition is 31.3% (Bellatín & Muñoz, 2012).

The water system at the farm conserves and recycles water, and the organic compost they use recycles plant, animal, and even human waste. They access clean water from a natural spring drawn from a nearby mountain. This water feeds into their irrigation system, which consists of a hose attached to a large plastic soda bottle that contains several holes. Trinidad demonstrated how it worked and explained that before using this sprinkler system, water would get wasted; now, she can target the water to certain crops and reduce water use. Inside the greenhouse, they use drip irrigation. The use of drip irrigation saves them time and water and allows them to have year-long production since it frees them from dependence on rain (Bellatín & Muñoz, 2012). In addition to making their own organic pesticide, they also make their own organic compost from animal and plant waste, sugar, and chicha, a popular drink in Peru made from fermented corn. They also have a modern guest bathroom, which is an eco bathroom. Human waste from the bathroom is made into a type of fertilizer, and water can be extracted to water the plants.

The Sierra Productiva program began in Cusco in 1994 with the purpose of making small-scale agricultural production viable in order to lift farmers and their families, like Trinidad and her sister, out of poverty (Bellatín & Muñoz, 2012). Before the organization’s inception, farmers found themselves unable to make enough income from their agricultural production, which led them to seek assistance from an international cooperation of federations and associations, including the Institute for an Agricultural Alternative (Bellatín & Muñoz, 2012). The Sierra Productiva program was then created. This program aims to improve the quality of life for farmers and their families by helping them adopt sustainable and effective farming technologies and connecting them to the market to increase profitability in a manner that fits with their cultural values of respecting their mother Earth and acting in a communal way.

The Sierra Productiva program follows three stages. First, they make sure that the family has enough food security and that the farmers are following practices that are clean and sustainable. For example, the water must be clean, and everything must be grown organically. The farm owned by Trinidad and her sister is in this first stage. Second, Sierra Productiva helps farmers to sell locally in the nearby area. Third, the program facilitates a partnership between the farmer and a hotel or restaurant. This is a 1:1 relationship between farm and hotel or restaurant.

A major part of the program involves farmers like Trinidad teaching other farmers in the area. This aligns with the community’s concepts of Yachachiq and ayni. Yachachiq is the Quechuan title for someone who passes on knowledge (Bellatín & Muñoz, 2012). “Ayni” is the implicit belief that everyone should work to help others in their community improve their well-being (Bellatín & Munoz, 2012). Trinidad is essentially a Yachachiq who teaches other farmers in the area for the purpose of helping them to improve their farming and quality of life (Bellatín & Muñoz, 2012).

Most Andean farmers may prefer to stay in their community rather than relocate due to economic insecurity. The assistance provided by Sierra Productiva, which improves quality of life and builds partnerships to ensure economic stability, helps Andean farmers like Trinidad and her sister sustain their livelihood and stay in their communities. It also provides them with a larger income to put their kids through school. Recently, many of these children who are going to school in Cusco have developed an interest in becoming involved in Sierra Productiva’s work. We were told that although many were once reluctant to take part in it, many children now view it as a source of pride.

So far, the Sierra Productiva program has reached 200 rural districts and 35,000 families. The next step would be to scale up the program and adopt it as public policy. Program leaders have begun these discussions with Peruvian officials (Bellatín & Muñoz, 2012). Considering that agriculture in Peru employs about 34.7% of the total population able to work, supporting these farmers would have a positive impact on the economy overall (Bellatín & Muñoz, 2012). This almost echoes a point made by former Minister of Labor Fernando Villarán in a lecture to us in Lima a few days prior to our stay in Cusco. Villarán argued that the gastronomy industry in Peru should be expanded because it would create more jobs for Peruvians, whereas continuing to rely on mining, which is harmful to the environment and to people, would do little to improve the lives of most Peruvians. For economic as well as social, cultural, and political reasons, Peruvian farmers must be supported in more comprehensive ways, including adopting a program like Sierra Productiva at the public policy level.

By Anabel del Castro

References

Bellatín, P. & Muñoz, I. (2012). A step towards development and freedom for the Peruvian rural highlands: The case of Sierra Productiva. Retrieved from https://hd-ca.org/?s2member_file_download_key=5a9114fae01be873bae9a1236101335d&s2member_file_download=/Bellatin_Nieto-A_step_towards_development_and_freedom-488_a.pdf

Ecotourism and Locally Led Development in the Peruvian Amazon

Sustainable Ecotourism in the Peruvian Amazon

Hiking recently through the Amazon rainforest in Peru, I was gripped by the jungle’s biodiversity and natural beauty. The Peruvian Amazon is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world and is home to various species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.

Our journey began in the town of Puerto Maldonado, near the Tambopata National Reserve, on the banks of the Tambopata river, a tributary of the Amazon River. From there, we traveled by boat to the Ese’Eja indigenous community of Infierno. The Native Community of Infierno, through a partnership with Rainforest Expeditions, protects their ancestral land by managing three ecotourism lodges in their territory, including the lodge where we stayed, Posada Amazonas.[1] Posada Amazonas now attracts an increasing number of eco-friendly tourists at the edge of the Tambopata National Reserve.

Socially Innovative Model

The main objective of this community-led partnership is to conserve the flora and fauna of the Peruvian Amazon through low-impact educational tourist activities, while providing livelihoods for the community. Posada Amazonas allows visitors the opportunity to observe the natural habitat of unique endemic species. [2] Tourists are offered a unique experience including jungle hikes, watching macaws and toucans fly past the canopy tower, visiting the nearby oxbow lake to watch giant river otters swim, and witnessing sloths and frogs in their natural habitats. The lodge’s open-air design immerses visitors in the jungle in a safe yet thrilling way. Biodegradable soap and shampoo are offered to guests in their rooms and meals prepared from locally grown organic food are the standard fare at the lodge.

The dining area at the Posada Amazonas lodge. (photo credit: Ayesha Tahir)

Posada Amazonas provides a noteworthy example of sustainable development and community integration. Rainforest Expeditions includes the Ese’Eja community in decision-making and shares profits from the lodge with the community, with 60% of shares going to the Ese’Eja indigenous community.[3] Most of the families in Infierno have shares in the lodge and receive an annual dividend.[4] In fact, the success of this socially innovative model has motivated the community to invest in building an additional ecolodge on their land.

Capacity building of the local community

Posada Amazonas focuses on capacity building of the staff and the guides from the native community are equally invested in the conservation of the jungle. Community members are trained for various lodge positions such as housekeeping, dining services, guiding, boat driving, and  lodge management. Rainforest Expeditions engages in an adaptive management strategy in the operation and management of its lodges and motivates employees to go above and beyond what is expected of them.[5] Ines, a guide at the lodge said, “No one employee stays in the same position for long; we all get to switch between different roles to learn more about the management of the lodge and conservation of the jungle.”

Our group with guides Ines and Cesar. (Photo credit: Tom Hilde)

Eco-lodges act as a deterrent against illegal mining in Peruvian Amazon

Thanks to the presence of eco-lodges such as Posada Amazonas, ecotourism in the Peruvian Amazon also acts as a wildlife corridor and incentivizes the community to both not indulge in and stop others from partaking any illegal mining activities in the area. As per the report from the CINCIA Amazon research institution, since 1985 the uncontrolled alluvial mining has caused damage to nearly 100,000 hectares of rainforest. [6] Conversation with the guides from the Posada Amazonas revealed that economic gains generated from ecotourism have been instrumental in creating awareness in the community about the conservation of the jungle. In fact, some of the community members working now in the ecotourism industry in the Peruvian Amazon used to work as miners or hunters.

Sustainability of ecotourism in the Peruvian Amazon ?

Ecotourism can be both an economic lifeline for the indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon and a safety net for the wildlife in the jungle, which is under constant threat from illegal mining and logging activities. Yet, it is not a perfect solution. Ecotourism is still at a nascent stage in the Peruvian Amazon, and there needs to be government regulations and practices that ensure the preservation of the ecosystem, while maintaining a growing influx of tourists in the region. Moreover, since ecotourism is in its early stages in the Peruvian Amazon it is of utmost importance to engage researchers and policy makers to assess the impact tourist-related activities are having on the biodiversity and ecosystem of the jungle. During our visit, I also observed that the educational tourist activities are limited to site visits and brief overviews of various species of wildlife. I wonder if moving forward, these educational activities could also acquaint tourists with the relevance of the Amazon rainforest to sustainability issues at local and global levels?

Nonetheless, ecolodges like Posadas Amazonas are noteworthy examples of socially innovate eco-friendly business models and have significant potential to further develop as transferable models of ecotourism.

By Ayesha Tahir

References:

[1] “Our History.” Peru Rainforest Expeditions. Accessed March 26, 2019. https://www.perunature.com/about-rainforest/our-history/.

[2] “Ecotourism in Peru: An Interview with Crees’ Project Coordinator, Kristi Foster.” Crees Manu. July 31, 2018. Accessed April 02, 2019. https://crees-manu.org/ecotourism-in-peru-an-interview-with-crees-project-coordinator-kristi-foster/.

[3] Native Community of Infierno: Sustainable Efforts at Rainforest Expeditions.” Peru Rainforest Expeditions. Accessed March 27, 2019. https://www.perunature.com/about-rainforest/native-community-infierno/.

[4] Collyns, Dan. “Eco-tourism in Peru: Engaging with Communities and Preserving the Amazon.” The Guardian. July 08, 2013. Accessed March 27, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/eco-tourism-peru-amazon-engaging-communities.

[5] “Ecotourism in Conservation – Cpb-eu-w2.wpmucdn.com.” Accessed April 2, 2019. https://cpb-eu-w2.wpmucdn.com/blogs.bristol.ac.uk/dist/e/218/files/2015/02/HillHill_Ecotourism_Geography_2011.pdf.

[6] Collyns, Dan. “A New Leaf: The Hardy Trees Reforesting the Amazon.” The Guardian. October 18, 2018. Accessed April 02, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/18/a-new-leaf-the-hardy-trees-reforesting-the-amazon.

The Balance Between Community Sovereignty and Ecotourism

Nestled along the banks of the Tambopata River, Posadas Amazonas has been at the forefront of the ecotourism industry in Madre de Dios since 1996. Operated by Rainforest Expeditions and the Native Community of Infierno, the lodge provides visitors with an experience unique enough to truly encapsulate the marvels of the Amazon rainforest. Our stay at Posadas Amazonas was filled with all the wonders that the Peruvian rainforest has to offer. From the moment we stepped onto the boat in Puerto Maldonado, we were greeted with the beautiful wildlife and scenery we dreamed we would get to experience.

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A clay lick along the banks of the Tambopata River, close to Posada Amazonas. (Photo credit: Maya Camargo-Vemuri)

The lodge is majority-owned by the indigenous community of Infierno, which is mostly comprised of the Ese’Eja indigenous people of Madre de Dios, and managed by Rainforest Expeditions, a Peruvian ecotourism company. The ecological knowledge of the staff is on full display since the guides and staff are native members of the land and they utilize their knowledge to educate visitors about the unique Amazon ecosystems. The majority of the staff at Posadas Amazonas are indigenous, which allows the lodge to offer comprehensive community-based knowledge of the uniquely biodiverse Amazon rainforest to visitors.

A complex agreement exists between the Infierno community and Rainforest Expeditions. It is structured to preserve the natural wonders of the land while allowing both parties to reap the economic benefits of ecotourism. Members of the community and Rainforest Expeditions come together periodically to discuss the conditions of the agreement and vote on any new stipulations. This process tends to be an all-day activity where the deliberative negotiations lead to a new agreement. Not every stakeholder within the community, however, has a vested interest in accommodating visitors and opening their land and lives to outsiders.

Several members of Infierno routinely allow visitors onto their land to briefly experience the daily activities of the community. The guides have built trusting and reciprocal relationships with the families but a sense of privacy seems to be lacking. Guests are led by guides to visit the farm, medicinal garden, and oxbow lake. Although all of these activities are conducted under mutual agreement with community members, it seems that this may relinquish some privacy in the name of ecotourism.

We experienced this while visiting a community farm a short trip across the Tambopata River from the Posada. When we arrived in late afternoon, the family living there retreated into their home while we were on our tour. After touring the vast stretch of different crops, we were guided to an expanse of banana trees and shown how to properly harvest the bundles. We began our walk back to the boat when our guides made sure to leave the bundles on the porch of the family who work the land. This dynamic struck me as interesting because we were informed prior to our visit that not every community member is in agreement with the contract and the responsibilities that it requires. I wondered whether there might be tensions in such arrangements.

As the ecotourism industry continues to grow in popularity and economic promise, impacted indigenous communities will continue to grapple with the struggle of retaining their sovereignty while still participating in the lucrative industry. We were privileged to learn about the Ese’Eja culture and how communities like theirs have survived given the unforgiving conditions of the forest. This interest in immersive cultural experiences could come at a cost to indigenous communities, however. It’s important for the sake of both community life and the economics of ecotourism that continuing consultation and modification of agreements between communities and tourism companies upholds community sovereignty and addresses any problems that may arise from increased exposure of community life to visitors.

By Devon Mohondro

Climate Change and Drought in the Western Amazon

As our group landed in the tropical Madre de Dios area, taking the boat upstream to Posada Amazonas, it was hard not to feel overwhelmed by the green scenery. The biodiversity seems to have remained untouched by the effects of climate change, with tree cover as far as the eye can see. With this initial impression, it is easy to forget that unprecedented droughts have affected the Amazon over the past few decades, drawing attention to the vulnerability of tropical forests to climate change.

Historically, the increased attention to mitigation of climate change has kept our focus on forests as a key tool, since they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (FAO, 2018). However, the Peruvian Amazon is already suffering from large-scale degradation due to climate change, most notably: the changing growing season of plants, a significant reduction in crop yields (corn and coffee), an increase in average temperature, larger or more frequent fires during dry periods, the loss of habitats and biodiversity, the flooding of crop areas and fields in areas near rivers, and landslides (CAP, 2013). One of the most severe impacts is more recurrent and intense drought in the region. Amazonian droughts impact the region’s vegetation, carbon storage, water cycling, biodiversity, land use, and economy (Parsons et al. 2018).

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Amazon view from Posada Amazonas. (Photo credit: Florencia Sanchez Zunino)

The Amazon plays a crucial role in natural and human systems. The Amazon rainforest provides a habitat for up to a quarter of the world’s terrestrial species. Amazonian plants and soils hold the equivalent of approximately half of the carbon contained in the pre-industrial global atmosphere (Parsons et al. 2018), and the hydrological feedback provided by the rainforest is an integral part of the global climate system. Furthermore, the rainforest provides essential support for local and regional livelihoods. Biodiversity plays an important role in ecosystem functions that provide support, provisions, regulations, and cultural services essential to human well-being (Marengo et al. 2011).

Although droughts and floods are part of the Amazon’s natural climate variability, there have been unusually extreme drought and flood events over the past decade. Climate change is projected to increase the frequency and intensity of extreme events. The drought impacts could be harmful enough to impact the sustainability of the overall rainforest ecosystem. In addition, the interaction of extreme droughts with other threats like deforestation and fire have the potential to strongly amplify these impacts, so much so that some studies have forecasted a collapse of the tropical rainforest and a subsequent transformation into a drier ecosystem (Nobre et al. 2016). Depending on the scale, these changes could transform the ecosystem towards a different forest−climate equilibrium state where most of the tropical forests in southern, southwestern, and southeastern Amazon are replaced by degraded savannas (Nobre et al. 2016). Parsons et al. (2018) found that Amazonia has “regularly experienced multi-year droughts over the last millennium, and that current climate model simulations likely underestimate the background risk of multi-year Amazonian drought,” and during the major droughts of 2005 and 2010, a large affected area was located in the southwestern Amazon over the Purus River Basin.

The large-scale effects of droughts and their long-term impact on the forests of the Amazon region remain uncertain, but recent studies have shown that Amazon droughts have a long legacy of damage. Yang, Yan et al. (2018) found that a season of drought in the Amazon rainforest can reduce the forest’s carbon dioxide absorption for years and increase tree mortality. With more frequent droughts expected in the future, the forests of the Amazon may lose their ability to decrease carbon levels, leading to a significant positive climate feedback and exacerbating warming trends.

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Rainfall Anomaly during the 2005 drought. Source: Nasa Earth Observatory

The conservation of the Amazonian forest will require an integrated approach, recognizing the influences of other threats such as land use, deforestation, water availability, pests and diseases, and fires. Although we have seen forests recover from droughts, their resilience may be undermined in the future by non-climatic stresses. For example, severe drought in Indonesia exacerbated large fires and increased land use. In the Amazon rainforest, the combination of multi-year droughts with increased forest flammability and increased land use pressure could compound land conversion challenges (Parsons et al. 2018). It is crucial to consider the interaction of multi-year droughts, increased temperature and how other threats to Amazonian biodiversity, carbon storage, water cycling, and other critical forest services could be significantly larger than previously anticipated.

By Florencia Sanchez Zunino

Works Cited

  • Center for American Progress (2013). Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict in the Amazon and the Andes, Rising Tensions and Policy Options in South America.
  • FAO (2018).  A review of existing approaches and methods to assess climate change vulnerability of forests and forest-dependent people. Forestry Working Paper No. 5. Rome, FAO. 80 pp. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
  • Marengo, Jose et al. (2011). Climate change in the Amazon Basin: Tipping points, changes in extremes, and impacts on natural and human systems. 10.1007/978-3-642-05383-2_9.
  • Nobre, Carlos A. et al. (2016). Land-Use And Climate Change Risks In The Amazon And The Need Of A Novel Sustainable Development Paradigm. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, vol 113, no. 39, 2016, pp. 10759-10768. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, doi:10.1073/pnas.1605516113.
  • Parsons, L. A. et al. (2018). The threat of multi- year drought in western Amazonia. Water Resources Research, 54, 5890–5904. https://doi.org/10.1029/ 2017WR021788
  • Yang, Yan et al. (2018) Post-Drought Decline Of The Amazon Carbon Sink. Nature Communications, vol 9, no. 1, 2018. Springer Nature, doi:10.1038/s41467-018-05668-6.

Preservation and Evolution of Culture in Madre de Dios

The development of the tourism industry in the Madre de Dios region has created a demand for authentic and unique cultural experiences by tourists. This demand has sparked a revival of indigenous cultural practices among local community members – traditions that had become diluted by the traumas of colonialism, decades of cultural mixing from immigration, and the fragmentation of native populations as a result of the 1974 agrarian reform (Castillo 2004). What is presented now to those who travel to this region is a reimagining of cultural elements that have been forgotten mixed with those that have been maintained (Stronza 2008).

As evidenced with the case of the Amazonian community of Infierno, tourism has not only been beneficial in terms of spurring economic growth, but encouraging the indigenous Ese’Eja to try and recall traditions that have fallen by the wayside. It has also provided an incentive for them to hold onto the traditions they have continued to practice. The Ese’Eja have taken great strides in the effort to relearn their indigenous language, as well as the stories and songs from elders, ever since there was talk of tourism coming to the area (Stronza 2008). These efforts ensure not only that these pieces of culture will continue to be passed down from generation to generation, but also that the Ese’Eja can teach tourists about who they are as a people. Therefore, tourism has been a conduit to the Ese’Eja becoming actively involved in their culture’s preservation.

Being employed at the ecolodge itself leads to some degree of cultural evolution. As Stronza says in her article “Commons Management and Ecotourism: Ethnographic Evidence from the Amazon,” people working at the ecotourism lodge “have learned to follow work schedules, guidelines, and hierarchies that did not exist in their rural, subsistence economy” (Stronza 2010, 69). Being introduced to novel concepts like these surely alters one’s culture, if only inadvertently, by changing perceptions and routines of daily life.

A prime example of an evolving tradition is a dance that the Ese’Eja recently performed
for our group staying at Posada Amazonas. Adorned in skirts and tops made of tree bark-based fabric, the young tribal members danced and sang. A small child was revealed from a raised hut that was carried by a few others. The child held out both hands to show the crowd a snake that she carried, meant to represent the anaconda, a great Amazonian predator. From time to time the head dancer would blow smoke on the snake in order to “keep it feeling calm.” The dancers then proceeded to pick people out from the crowd to come join them in their dance, laughing and holding hands all the while. While visitors cannot be certain that all elements of this dance are original, especially given the inclusion of outsiders, the efforts to teach Ese’Eja youth this dance speaks volumes to recent preservation efforts.

As tourists coming to the Amazon, we are exposed to cultures that continue to evolve. Due to the inter-connectedness of preservation and evolution, we must not only welcome “original” customs, but also be willing to acknowledge the ever-changing nature of culture and to revel in the willingness of others to share their lives and traditions.

By Kaleigh Blair

Sources:

Castillo, B. H. (2004). Indigenous Peoples in Isolation in the Peruvian Amazon: Their
Struggle for Survival and Freedom (No. 100). IWGIA.
Stronza, A. (2008). Through a New Mirror: Reflections on Tourism and Identity in the
Amazon. Human Organization, 244-257.
Stronza, A. L. (2010). Commons Management and Ecotourism: Ethnographic Evidence
from the Amazon. International Journal of the Commons, 4(1), 56-77.

Progress in Peru: Economic Transitions and Growth

As a country, Peru has experienced quick growth in its recent history, placing the nation at a medium level of development when compared to other Latin American nations. Peru’s economy has been on a gradual upward trend since the start of its recovery from the authoritarianism and terrorism of the late 20th century and the subsequent return to democracy.

A portion of this growth has arisen with the growth of the informal economy, including  illegal gold mining in the Puerto Maldonado region. The informal sectors contribute to about 20 percent of GDP (2007), and over 70% of the workforce is involved in informal sectors. Richard Webb, an economist at Instituto del Peru, with whom our study abroad class met, calls this tendency towards and persistence of informality in Peru’s economy a “cultural tradition.” Despite the dangers associated with this prohibited work, the informal sector continues to draw poor workers by offering a livable profit and opportunities they cannot find in legitimate occupations in other parts of the country.

How did Peru arrive where they are today, an up-and-coming developing nation with such a large informal economy? Taking a step back, Richard Webb presented some of the broader changes in Peru leading up to this point in time. The first big economic changes that he noted came with the rubber boom, which resulted from the increased demand for war vehicles in WWII, among other factors. Before the rubber boom, only a small percentage of the population lived in the jungle. However, this spike in demand sent wage-deprived workers into the jungle to harvest rubber from trees and seek a livable wage.

The “jungle rush” continued once more roads were built, which facilitated a spike in growth as workers were able to access their nation’s natural resources more easily. In the 1990s, with the advent of the free trade agreement with the United States and other nations, there was an increase in demand for Peruvian exports, including fruits, coffee, and coca, among others. Exporting these food products and raw materials such as rubber still compose a substantial portion of the Peruvian economy, thus leaving markets and workers susceptible to any significant changes in demand for their exports, especially changes from the United States, which is a major trade partner of Peru.

Furthermore, the exportation of raw materials limits the growth potential of the nation, as they are tied to the market value of their product and cannot add additional value to that product without making major infrastructural changes. Former Peruvian Minister of Labor Fernando Villarán, who is currently a professor at the Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, spoke on this topic when he met with us in Lima. Villarán reported that while mining increased from 4.7 percent of GDP in 1990 up to 16 percent in 2017, the number of employees in that sector has not grown proportionately and mining is an unsustainable form of GDP increase with negative environmental effects.

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Fernando Villarán, former Minister of Labor of Peru. (Photo credit: SINEACE, Gobierno del Peru)

Though these growth challenges have persisted throughout the years, there have been some bright spots in recent Peruvian development. As a whole, poverty in the nation fell from 42 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2016. Similarly, what Villarán described as extreme poverty fell from 11 percent to just 3.8 percent over those same years. This is a substantial improvement, although these figures do not represent changes in the quality of employment, which may carry more weight in a long-term analysis or a study of overall well-being.

The further diversification of its economy may protect Peru from a dependency on exports, and create sustainable, quality jobs that will improve the well-being of Peruvians. Recently, gastronomy has taken off as Peruvian cuisine has gained international recognition. The support of small businesses via micro finance may also continue to spur growth in local industries. Tourism, specifically environmentally-friendly tourism, is another form of economic activity that (if developed correctly) could simultaneously provide jobs to locals, stimulate growth, protect and conserve the environment, and create an international sentiment of appreciation for the local culture and Peru’s beautiful and unique environment.

By Kayla Good

The Growth of Gastronomy in Peruvian Business (and its International Reach)

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Ceviche, a traditional Peruvian dish of raw fish cooked in citrus, tossed with red onion, choclo, and toasted corn kernels, garnished with cilantro. (Photo credit: Michelin Guide)

Today, Peru is known across the world as a hot spot for great food, but this has not always been the case. In fact, Peru’s culinary reputation has only become globally recognized in the last 15 years. The creation of a thriving gastronomy sector has driven a boost in tourism and fueled economic growth.

A Brief Background on Peruvian Cuisine

Peruvian cuisine is the result of a mixing of many cultures. It finds influences from the country’s Pre-Columbian traditional cuisine (called pachamanca); Spanish colonizers; Italian, German, Japanese, and Chinese immigrants (predominantly seen in the Peruvian-Japanese fusion called nikkei and the Peruvian-Chinese fusion called chifa); and West African slaves. In addition to the creative combinations and blends of influences, Peruvian cuisine benefits from the unique diversity of ingredients available domestically (Tegel, 2016). With access to fresh fish from Pacific fisheries, rare Andean tubers, and fruits and vegetables unique to the Amazon rainforest, cooks are able to transform standard ingredients you might find in a European kitchen into distinctly Peruvian dishes.

Recent Growth of the Gastronomy Industry

Following the national crises of the 1980s and 1990s (including the rise of the Shining Path, economic downturn, and internal conflict) many Peruvians who were living abroad moved back to Peru. Of those who returned, many were chefs who had been trained in the Spanish, French, or Italian tradition and had since been working abroad (Tegel, 2016).  When they moved home, they had the opportunity to start restaurants of their own and, in doing so, put unique Spanish, French, and Italian spins on traditional Peruvian dishes.

The world began to take note of Peru’s unique cuisine and in 2011, a Peruvian restaurant, Astrid y Gastón, first ranked among the top 50 restaurants in the world (Chau-Eoan). From 2011 to 2013, the gastronomy sector grew by 45% and now, Lima is one of four cities in the world (along with New York, London, and Mexico City) to have 3 of the top 50 restaurants in the world. It is no surprise, then, that Lima was named top culinary destination in 2017.

Economic Implications

This growth of the gastronomy sector has been a great source of national pride. In fact, 39% of Peruvians consider it their principal point of national pride, compared to 36% who viewed Machu Picchu as their national greatest pride (Tegel, 2016). But beyond the feel-good aspect of this trend, there are serious positive economic implications. For one, all of the international press and attention has transformed the gastronomy sector into a tourist attraction that people travel across the globe to experience. Lima was previously a pass-through city that tourists mainly experienced as a layover on their way to Cusco. However, now that the majority of Peru’s most exceptional cuisine is found in Lima, Lima has become the city with most overnight international visitors in Latin America (Tegel, 2016). With those overnight stays comes an influx of spending on hotels, taxis, and other tourism expenses.  On a national scale, it has transformed into a 25 billion soles a year industry (the equivalent of approximately 8 billion USD) that connects and feeds into many other industries – for example, clothing, tableware, silverware – and fuels growth in those industries as well.  It is hard to quantify the exact benefit that the gastronomy sector has had on the national economy, but it has certainly transformed the economy of Lima and that kind of growth and transformation positively benefits the country as a whole.

By Christina Hnatov

Sources:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-02/why-lima-is-the-world-s-best-food-city-by-the-numbers

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/why-perus-gastronomy-is-a-bigger-draw-for-tourists-than-the-incas-a6805026.html

 

 

 

Role of Mining in Peru’s Economy

Since 2002, Peru’s economy has grown rapidly, registering a GDP growth rate above 6% over that time period. While inequality remains high, overall poverty has steadily decreased to less than a quarter of the population (though recently increased slightly for the first time in 16 years). This success ranks Peru as one of the strongest economies in Latin America. This achievement is doubly impressive considering the traumatic experiences of the 1980s, when hyperinflation and armed internal conflict by terrorist organizations devastated Peru socially and economically.

The surge in the mining industry has driven a large part of this economic growth. Peru is the world’s second largest producer of copper, zinc, and silver, as well as one of the largest producers of gold. This extractive activity accounts for at least 10% of GDP, and (perhaps most importantly) over 60% of exports and the vast majority of the country’s $8 billion annual foreign investment. Given these statistics, it is hard to overstate the importance of mining in the Peruvian economy.

Relatively speaking, Peru can be viewed as a country that is managing to mostly avoid the economic and political stagnation that tends to plague extraction economies. But that is not to say that mining doesn’t bring plenty of social and ecological problems anyway – especially the illegal/informal activities. The most recent report from Peru’s Ombudsman office listed 132 active socio-environmental conflicts, of which 70% are directly due to mining. Unresolved conflicts with local communities have been known to suspend the development of huge mining projects, like the Conga mine in northern Peru.

Mining activities, which are usually carried out by international or non-local corporations, often run into complex land-rights, indigenous peoples, and environmental issues. These are, of course, not segregated issues. Mining has significant impacts on the surrounding environment, particularly water quality, which is frequently what drives the conflicts with the local peoples. However, since 2010, Peru has taken steps to ensure transparency in projects by joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), and has developed environmental and social standards that govern all legal mining.

However, to-date, the Peruvian government has failed to curtail the rampant illegal mining economy that plagues several parts of the Amazon, particularly the Madre de Dios region. Over 60,000 hectares of the Amazon rainforest have been destroyed due to illegal gold mining in Madre de Dios alone. Besides the direct damage done by tearing up the forest, illegal gold-mining is threatening the health of the broader region and its human inhabitants. Illegal alluvial gold-mining uses large amounts of mercury, which has slowly poisoned water and food supplies for indigenous communities.

Mining will likely continue its role as a major driver of economic growth and poverty reduction in Peru. The government has a significant opportunity to drive sustainable development by leveraging this incoming wealth to invest in the long-term welfare of its people.

By Jacob Kincer

Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Our meeting in Lima with Félix Reátegui at the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, offered a perspective on the internal conflict in Peru from someone deeply knowledgeable about the crisis. Reátegui served on Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which attempted to establish a comprehensive picture of the human rights abuses that occurred during the internal conflict in Peru between the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) and the Peruvian government from 1980 to 2000.
The work of the TRC revealed the depth and breadth of the human rights abuses during the conflict and moved the Peruvian government in a direction of humility and acknowledgment of its role. The goal of a truth and reconciliation commission is the post-conflict documenting and analysis of violence and other human rights abuses in order both to serve justice and to avoid going through such a conflict in the future.
The internal conflict in Peru originated in Ayacucho, a relatively poor region populated by many indigenous people. Abimael Guzmán, a professor at a local university in the region, founded the Maoist ideological group which developed into the guerrilla insurgency known as Shining Path. Guzmán thought of himself as the “Fourth Sword of Communism,” after Marx, Lenin, and Mao.
During newly democratic elections in the country in 1980, Guzmán and his recruits launched the People’s War with the aim of overthrowing the regime. They had no interest in negotiations and used brute force to achieve their mission. Building power in indigenous regions, the Shining Path tactically attacked cities by telling peasant farmers to stop producing and selling their foods to the cities. When the peasants did not agree with their approach, the Shining Path would often use deadly violence against them.
The state military and police stepped in, intensifying the conflict. State actors expelled the Shining Path from the countryside, but this served to increase urban terrorism by Shining Path members. The state responded with violence in return. Mass violence in the form of forced disappearance, murder, sexual violence, child abuse, and torture, was committed by both state and non-state actors.
In 1990, Alberto Fujimori was elected president. Fujimori’s government, though initially democratically elected, carried out a coup and suspended the constitution in 1992 in response to significant congressional opposition to his policies. The government’s capture of Guzmán later that year further served to legitimize the authoritarian regime. With the arrest of Guzmán, the Shining Path was neutralized since the hierarchical organization had lost its leader. Fujimori was re-elected twice afterwards (in 1995 and 2000). In 2000, however, corruption scandals broke loose. In light of serious accusations, Fujimori fled the country, which paved the way for a political transition that helped return Peru to peace, stability, and functional democracy.
This transition laid the foundation for establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Documenting evidence of the brutality of the internal conflict, the TRC played a crucial role in moving the country towards recognition of its recent past and as a means of achieving a peaceful response to the conflict. Without the TRC’s in-depth review of witness testimonies from victims and families, the victims would have otherwise remained nameless and voiceless. Instead, the TRC revealed that the Shining Path and state security forces both committed crimes against humanity. They also learned that, of the estimated total of 70,000 fatalities (not to mention non-fatal abuses), 75% of the victims were indigenous people.
The work of the TRC was vitally important to preserving the dignity of and respect for the victims of the conflict. Unfortunately, its policy recommendations were mostly ignored by the government. It is unusual for a government to admit such horrific wrongdoing in terms of the response to the conflict, but post-conflict legal, emotional, psychological, and cultural reconciliation remains elusive. Governments around the world, however, can use the example of the TRC’s methods and testimonial approach to better address conflicts in their own countries.
Regardless of one’s take on the relative effectiveness of Peru’s TRC and its role today, the history of the conflict and the TRC’s examination of its nature demonstrates the power of ideas. On one hand, the work of the TRC exposed the susceptibility to violence of extremist ideology and authoritarian government, while, on the other, it underscored the importance of maintaining human rights for all peoples and the hope of a more peaceful future.
By Lauren Burr