Corporations: How could they help to produce water in the Andes?

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This past September 20, the Peruvian government announced the launching of “Sierra Azul”, a program intended to promote “water sowing and harvesting” in the high Andean upper reaches of watersheds. The program seeks to recover and improve ancestral water management techniques inherited from indigenous peoples such as the Incas, which involve collecting and storing rainwater in mini-reservoirs where it infiltrates the soil. These mini-reservoirs, known as “qochas” in Quechua-the local language-, will be created in natural depressions in the landscape, using picks and shovels and local materials (such as wild grasses and rocks). To enhance their infiltration capacity, they will be complemented by planting native forest species and by other works, such as infiltration ditches, trenches, and dikes.

In a context of global climate change, where scientists predict a 3°C rise in temperature in the Andes by 2100, characterized by less rainfall in the dry season, fewer freezing nights, and considerably more sunshine, leading to greater evapotranspiration (and increased irrigation requirements), the implementation of this technique brings hope to the poorest and most isolated populations of the highlands. It is expected that this will generate greater surface and groundwater availability in the medium and long term, which will lead to enhanced opportunities for economic development and social tranquility.

The agronomist Carolina Israel of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (Minagri) prepared the technical profile of the Public Investment Project (PIP) that embodies this proposal. With the name of “Improving Availability, Access and Use of Water for Family Farming in the Andean and High Forest Micro-Watersheds,” this  PIP could mark a turning point in mountain landscape management in Peru and the world: creation of a productive zone, a space dedicated to water production and related profitable activities. The PIP, whose feasibility study will begin this month, would be implemented in 16,000 hectares of micro-watersheds of eight departments of Peru. According to the technical profile, the investment would be about $ 63.5 million, with $ 40 million dependent on external credits. The State would assume the difference.