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PERU: Ancient Inca Irrigation Works Restored, Raise Record Crops

Hi all - I know this is a bit long, but I think it's an inspiring example
of (what seems to be) sustainable ag, achieved by recovering the ancient
ways and encouraging and supporting local folks in recovering it
themselves.  The solution for them doesn't seem to be new risky technology,
but assistance in recovering basic old technology - and the cooperation and
intention and relationship within their community, and with the land
itself.... Pretty good stuff!! P. Dines

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From: Rich Winkel, INTERNET:rich%pencil@VM.KSU.EDU
To: Patricia Dines, 73652,1202
Date: Wed, May 28, 1997, 10:23 AM
Subject: PERU: Ancient Inca Irrigation Works Restored, Raise Record Crops

/** ppn.peru: 203.0 **/
** Topic: IPS: PERU: Ancient Inca Irrigation Works Restored To Raise Record
C **
** Written  4:08 PM  May 25, 1997 by newsdesk in cdp:ppn.peru **
       Copyright 1997 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
          Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

                      *** 22-May-97 ***

Title: PERU: Ancient Inca Irrigation Works Restored To Raise Record Crops

By Susan Litherland

LONDON, May 22 (IPS) - The glossy leaves of beans, potatoes and
cabbages poke through the rich soil of terraces that wind about
the mountains high above the river in Peru's Patacancha valley.

Yet for almost 500 years those same terraces lay barren, ruined
when the mighty Inca empire was crushed by the Spanish invasion in
the sixteenth century.

The neat stone channels that carry glittering snow water from
mountain tops to the crops were until two years ago heaps of
tumble down stones, many of them hidden beneath burnt-out soil
that provided only a meagre living for subsistence farmers.

It took an archaeologist to visualise that out of the rubble
would grow bountiful crops, sown in land maintained using
traditional, cost-free methods.

Back in the 1970s British archaeologist Ann Kendall was scraping
away at Inca ruins in the neighbouring Cusichaca valley, also in
the Ollantaytambo district, when she was struck by the possibility
that the terraces could be restored.

''The farmers were practising only rain fed agriculture producing
scanty crops that weren't enough to keep body and soul together.
We felt we couldn't justify spending money on observing ancient
rural life without doing anything to help them,'' she says.

So in 1977 she founded the Cusichaca Trust, a British non-
governmental organisation, to help raise food production in the
Andean villages.

Peruvian agriculture was at an all time low, laid waste by years
of economic depression throughout the 1970s and guerrilla and
counter-revolutionary activities the 1980s and early 1990s. Unable
to command decent prices for their crops, people had left the land
in their thousands for the cities, many of them headed for slums
and poverty.

The sad irony was that agricultural innovation was the basis of
the country's pre-Columbian success; the Incas were magnificent
engineers and agriculturists.

In places terraces were built up dangerously precipitous
hillsides with massive inclined walls supporting a metre deep fill
of stones for drainage and a metre of excellent soil, often
brought in from elsewhere.

Clay was used for foundations to retain water and to encourage
roots to decay so that the biological activity would keep the soil
a few degrees warmer than the chilly mountain air all year round.

Incan terraces still occupy about a million hectares of land but
three quarters of them are abandoned, a process that began with
the Spanish conquest of 1534 when the Conquistadors sent defeated
rural communities to work in mines while they lived off the Inca
storehouses and allowed the terraces to fall into disrepair.

The centuries of oppression that followed took their toll on
villagers, robbing them of their initiative to build up
agriculture once more, according to archaeologist David Drew.
''First the Spaniards and then the hacienda aristocracy ordered
around the indigenous locals to the point where they lost the
confidence to get things done,'' he says.

When the haciendas were broken up during the 1960s the land was
parcelled out to peasants who limped along as subsistence farmers,
without the will to work efficiently in cooperatives, according to
Drew. While restoration of the terraces might appear an obvious
solution to outsiders, it wasn't to the villagers.

''It's pretty difficult for a tiny isolated village to make that
leap between observing the rubble of terraces and getting a
surveyor in to see if they can be rebuilt,'' he says.

Studies show that the Inca system could have supported 100,000
people from the produce of terraced lands in Ollantaytambo, a far
cry from the scattering of families living there in the early
1980s who had not enough food to eat let alone crops to export.

When Kendall first investigated the terraces she discovered the
soil was severely depleted from over cropping and grazing. ''And
being in a geologically granitic area, the soil contains lots of
sand which had accumulated on the surface as the good soil beneath
was washed away.''

The Trust's first project was in Cusichaca itself to rehabilitate
45 hectares of land by restoring seven kilometres of a canal
system so it could bring water to the terraces and peoples' homes.

A surveyor pronounced the project feasible, and under the
supervision of a master mason from Cusco, members of the local
community set off to clear and rebuild fallen sections, some of it
lying in ruins 100 metres below them.

They used simple wood and stone tools like those of the Incas
before them to shape stones where necessary and lever them into
place on canal foundations and walls. Like their predecessors they
sealed the channels with clayey soil to make the structure

It took a little persuasion to get the farmers to abandon their
preferred cement which costs money, needs outside help to prepare
and in any case is unsuitable for use in an earthquake region
because, unlike clay, it has no elasticity to cope with movement.

The job took three years to complete whereupon the Trust handed
out tools, seed money and planting advice. The soil has
recuperated through natural farming methods and land that was
barren for centuries today produces crops including the grains
maize, quinoa and kiwicha. Surplus product is taken to the market
and the profits have revitalised the entire community.

A bit further along the Urubamba valley, farmers in Patacancha
who'd watched the burgeoning crops of their neighbours asked the
Trust to work similar miracles on their own terraces. In 1991 the
Trust set out to restore six kilometres of canal to irrigate 160
hectares of land, returning them to their former glory.

The job was financed largely by the British government's aid arm
the Overseas Development Administration (now the Department for
International Development) and took four years to complete.

Since last year the land has been under permanent cultivation
resulting in the economic transformation of the valley. The
community has doubled with farming families coming back from Cusco
and Lima to claim their rights to the land.

''The country way of life needs to be set up again and families
reunited. Villagers were reduced to eating only potatoes and a
little meat as they had no vegetable gardens or agriculture. There
is a need for health programmes, nutrition and small scale
enterprises such as tool shops and mills.'' says Kendall.

The restoration of the Patacancha canal provided on the job
training for future master masons, foremen, engineers and
labourers who now have the ability to restore terraces in other
valleys. With the Trust's encouragement a local NGO called Adesa
has been set up to lead such projects and incorporate credit
facilities to help people get farming and small business off the

Already set in motion are schemes for vegetable gardens,
greenhouses, tree nurseries, guinea-pig farms, health and
nutrition programmes for women and the supply of potable water to
1000 families. This year the Trust is aiming to set up a
horticultural centre in Ollantaytambo which will be run by Adesa
and will sell tools, seeds, and plants.

The Trust is now turning its attention to the Ayacucho and
Apurimac areas, where 20 percent of the communities were displaced
by guerrilla movements and are now returning to the land.

''We can only work in areas where terraces are most run down and
hope other communities will come and see and be inspired by our
work,'' says Kendall. She adds: ''It's entirely possible that
other ancient irrigation systems around the world can be
rehabilitated and made to produce good crops.'' (END/IPS/SL/RJ/97)

Origin: Amsterdam/PERU/

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