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
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