Rural Women in Peru Seed Water Today to Harvest It Tomorrow

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Gender, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population, Poverty & SDGs, Projects, Regional Categories, Water & Sanitation, Women & Climate Change

Water & Sanitation

Women and men from the rural community of Sachac, at more than 3500 meters above sea level, build a kilometer-long infiltration ditch to capture rainwater and use it to irrigate crops in Cuzco, in Peru’s Andes highlands. CREDIT: Janet Nina/IPS

Women and men from the rural community of Sachac, at more than 3500 meters above sea level, build a kilometer-long infiltration ditch to capture rainwater and use it to irrigate crops in Cuzco, in Peru’s Andes highlands. CREDIT: Janet Nina/IPS

CUZCO, Peru , Dec 22 2021 (IPS) – “When I was a little girl we didn’t suffer from water shortages like we do now. Today we are experiencing more droughts, our water sources are drying up and we cannot sit idly by,” Kely Quispe, a small farmer from the community of Huasao, located half an hour from Cuzco, the capital of Peru’s ancient Inca empire, told IPS.


She is one of the 80 members of the Agroecological School of the Flora Tristan Peruvian Women’s Center, a non-governmental institution that has worked for the recovery of water sources through traditional techniques known as seeding and harvesting water in this part of the southern Andean region of Cuzco.

Muñapata, Huasao and Sachac are the three rural Quechua-speaking communities in the province of Quispicanchi, located between 3150 and 3800 meters above sea level, that have so far benefited from the project. The feminist-oriented institution promotes solutions based on nature and community work to address the problem of water scarcity and inadequate water use practices.

“We want to boost water security as well as gender equality because they are two sides of the same coin,” Elena Villanueva told IPS. On Dec. 14 she presented in this city the results of the initiative whose first phase was carried out in 2020 and 2021, with the support of the Basque Development Cooperation Agency and Mugen Gainetik, an international association for cooperation with countries of the developing South also based in Spain’s northern Basque region.

According to the National Water Authority (ANA), Peru is the eighth country in the world in terms of water availability, with a rich hydrodiversity of glaciers, rivers, lakes, lagoons and aquifers. However, various factors such as inefficient management of water and uneven territorial distribution of the population, in addition to climate change, make it impossible to meet consumption demands.

“The lack of water severely affects families in rural areas because they depend on small-scale agriculture for their livelihoods. The melting of glaciers as well as the increase in the frequency and intensity of droughts due to climate change are reducing water availability,” Villanueva explained.

This impact, she said, is not neutral. Because of the gender discrimination and social disadvantages they face, it is rural women who bear the brunt, as their already heavy workload is increased, their health is undermined, and their participation in training and decision-making spaces is further limited.

Kely Quispe, a farmer trained at the Flora Tristán Center's Agroecological School, holds a tomato in her organic garden in the farming community of Huasao. Her vegetable production depends on access to water for irrigation, but climate change has made water more scarce in the Andes highlands region of Cuzco in southern Peru. CREDIT: Janet Nina/IPS

Kely Quispe, a farmer trained at the Flora Tristán Center’s Agroecological School, holds a tomato in her organic garden in the farming community of Huasao. Her vegetable production depends on access to water for irrigation, but climate change has made water more scarce in the Andes highlands region of Cuzco in southern Peru. CREDIT: Janet Nina/IPS

“Moreover, although they are the ones who use water to ensure food, hygiene and health, and to irrigate their crops, they are not part of the decision-making with regard to its management and distribution,” she stressed.

The expert said that precisely in response to demand by the women farmers at the Agroecological School, where they receive technical and rights training, they are focusing on reviving water harvesting techniques used in ancient Peru, while promoting the equal participation of women in rural communities in the process.

She said that approximately 700 families living in poverty, some 3,500 people – about 11 percent of the population of the three communities – will benefit from the works being carried out.

Harvesting water

So far, these works are focused on the afforestation of 15 hectares and the construction of six “cochas” – the name for small earthen ponds, in the Quechua language – and an infiltration ditch, as part of a plan that will be expanded with other initiatives over the next two years.

The ditch, which is one kilometer long in 10-meter stretches, 60 centimeters deep and 40 centimeters wide and is located in the upper part of the community, collects rainwater instead of letting it run down the slopes.

The technique allows water to infiltrate slowly in order to feed natural springs, high altitude wetlands or small native prairies, as well as the cochas.

The mayor of the rural community of Sachac, Eugenio Turpo Quispe (right), poses with other leaders of the village of 200 families who will benefit from the forestation works and the construction of small reservoirs and infiltration ditches that will increase the flow of water in this highlands area that is suffering from prolonged droughts due to climate change. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

The mayor of the rural community of Sachac, Eugenio Turpo Quispe (right), poses with other leaders of the village of 200 families who will benefit from the forestation works and the construction of small reservoirs and infiltration ditches that will increase the flow of water in this highlands area that is suffering from prolonged droughts due to climate change. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

In their communal work, villagers use local materials and greenhouse thermal blankets to help retain water. In addition, they have used extracted soil to raise the height of the ditch, to keep rainwater from running over the top.

Although the ditch has been receiving rainwater this month (the rainy season begins in November-December), the ecosystem impact is expected to be more visible in about three years when the cocha ponds have year-round water availability, helping villagers avoid the shortages of the May-October dry season.

Several community members explained to IPS that they will now be able to harvest water from the ditch while at the same time caring for the soil, because heavy rain washes it away and leaves it without nutrients. Some 150 agricultural plots will also benefit from a sprinkler irrigation system, thanks to the project.

Since agriculture is the main livelihood of the families and this activity depends on rainwater, the main impact will be the availability of water during the increasingly prolonged dry periods to irrigate their crops, ensure harvests and avoid hunger, for both villagers and their livestock.

Eucalyptus and pine, huge consumers of water

The mayor of the Sachac community, Eugenio Turpo Quispe, told IPS that this is the first time that water seeding and harvesting practices have been carried out in his area. “We had not had the opportunity before; these works have begun thanks to the women who proposed forestation and the construction of cochas and ditches,” he said.

The local leader lamented that due to misinformation, two decades ago they planted pine and eucalyptus in the highlands of his community. “They have dried up our water sources, and when it rains the water disappears, it does not infiltrate. Now we know that out of ten liters of rain that falls on the ground, eight are absorbed by the eucalyptus and only two return to the earth,” he explained during the day that IPS spent in the community.

Women farmers from the rural community of Sachac show the map of water sources in their area and the uses for irrigation of their crops, for human consumption and household needs, as well as watering their animals, which they cannot satisfy throughout the year due to the increasingly long and severe dry season. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Women farmers from the rural community of Sachac show the map of water sources in their area and the uses for irrigation of their crops, for human consumption and household needs, as well as watering their animals, which they cannot satisfy throughout the year due to the increasingly long and severe dry season. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Turpo Quispe said they had seen forestation and construction of cochas and ditches in other communities, but did not know how to replicate them, and that only through the Flora Tristán Center’s project have they been able to implement these solutions to tackle the serious problem of shrinking water sources.

In Sachac, the three techniques have been adopted with the participation of women and men in communal work that began at six in the morning and ended at four in the afternoon. “Side by side we have been planting native plants, digging ditches and hauling stones for the cochas,” the mayor said proudly.

In this community, 9,000 seedlings of queuñas (Polylepis) and chachacomos (Escallonia Resinosas) – tree species that were used in the times of the ancient Inca empire – were planted. “These trees consume only two liters of rainwater and give eight back to Pachamama (Mother Earth),” Turpo Quispe said. As part of the project, the community has built fences to protect crops and has relocated grazing areas for their animals.

“We have planted seedlings and in 10 or 15 years our children and grandchildren will see all our hills green and with living springs so that they do not suffer a lack of water,” the mayor said.

Kely Quispe from the community of Huasao is equally upbeat: “With water we can irrigate our potatoes, corn and vegetables; increase our production to have enough to sell and have extra money; take care of our health and that of the whole family, and prevent the spread of covid.”

“But just as we use water for life, it is also up to us to participate on an equal footing with men in irrigation committees and community councils to decide how it is distributed, conserved and managed,” she added.

A model shows the water sources in the rural community of Muñapata in the Cuzco region, in Peru’s southern highlands. It was made by local women and men who built a system based on ancestral techniques for the collection and management of water, as increasing drought threatens their lives and crops. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

A model shows the water sources in the rural community of Muñapata in the Cuzco region, in Peru’s southern highlands. It was made by local women and men who built a system based on ancestral techniques for the collection and management of water, as increasing drought threatens their lives and crops. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

The decade of water security

Villanueva of the Flora Tristán Center said it was important for the country’s local and regional authorities to commit to guaranteeing water security in rural areas within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The International Decade for Action: Water for Sustainable Development was declared for 2018-2028 by the United Nations and SDG6 is dedicated to water and sanitation, to ensure universal and equitable access for all, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, and support the participation of local communities in improving management and sanitation.

“At the national level, public policies aimed at seeding and harvesting water should be strengthened because they revive the communities’ ancestral knowledge, involving sustainable practices with low environmental impact that contribute to guaranteeing the food security of families,” she said.

However, Villanueva remarked, in order to achieve their objectives, these measures must not only promote equal participation of men and women, but must also be accompanied by actions to close the gender gap in education, access to resources, training and violence that hinder the participation and development of rural women.

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Homeless Camps, a Reflection of Growing Inequality in Chile

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population, Poverty & SDGs, Regional Categories

Development & Aid

On Cerro 18, above the affluent municipality of Lo Barnechea, in the coveted eastern sector of Santiago de Chile with a stunning view of the valley and the Andes Mountains, 300 families live in five camps or irregular settlements, many without water, electricity or sewage. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

SANTIAGO, Dec 10 2021 (IPS) – Camps made up of thousands of tents and shacks have mushroomed in Chile due to the failure of housing policies and official subsidies for the sector, aggravated by the rise in poverty, the covid-19 pandemic and the massive influx of immigrants.


“Three years ago we were about to be evicted and when my children would head off to school they never knew if our little house would be there when they got home. One morning we were going to school and the carabineros (militarized police) were coming. Many times I had to go home early from work. It was chaotic, difficult and distressing,” Melanni Salas told IPS during a visit to the site.

Salas, 33, presides over Senda 23, one of the five camps that bring together 300 families who occupied public land in Cerro 18, in the municipality of Lo Barnechea, on the east side of Santiago. They have been building shacks with wood and other materials within their reach, which they are gradually trying to improve.

The threat of eviction ceased at the start of the covid pandemic, but the shadow still hangs over their heads because the municipality “built us a septic tank and gave us gifts for Christmas, but has said nothing about housing,” she said.

The community activist previously lived for 19 years as an “allegada”, the name given in Chile to people or families who share a house with relatives or friends, in overcrowded conditions. In 2016 she occupied the land where she and her husband Jorge built the precarious dwelling where she now lives with her three children aged 15, 13 and five years old.

“This used to be a garbage dump and now it is clean and there are houses,” said Salas. “Mine gets a little wet inside when it rains because it is made of wood and because of the strong wind. But I have drinking water, electricity and sewerage thanks to my mother-in-law who lives further up. The neighboring family has neither water nor sewage. They are a couple with three children and one of them, Colomba, was born a week ago.”

She explains that her neighbors “use the bathroom at their brother’s place who lives nearby, but during the pregnancy she went back to her mother’s house.”

In the camps people cook, wash, sleep and live together, observed by passers-by who have become accustomed to this new urban landscape. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

In the camps people cook, wash, sleep and live together, observed by passers-by who have become accustomed to this new urban landscape. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Hundreds of homeless tents now line the main avenues of Santiago de Chile.

Explosive situation

“Every day more than 10 families come to live in an encampment in Chile,” says Fundación Techo Chile, a social organization dedicated to fighting against housing exclusion in the cities of this South American country.

The problem is also seen along the avenues and in the parks where hundreds of men and women set up tents to sleep, cook, wash and live together in full view of passers-by who have become accustomed to the scene.

In the last two years, the number of families living in 969 of these camps with almost no access to water, energy and sanitation services has increased to 81,643, a survey by the Fundación Techo Chile found.

In Chile, the term “campamentos” or camps has also come to refer to slums or shantytowns known traditionally as “callampas”, such as the one where Salas lives, which are built on occupied land and consist of houses made of light materials, although the neighborhoods are sometimes later improved and upgraded, but still lack basic services.

These slums are mainly in Santiago and Valparaíso, 120 kilometers north of the capital, in central Chile. But they are also found in the northern cities of Arica and Parinacota and the southern city of Araucanía.

They are home to 57,384 children under the age of 14 and some 25,000 immigrants, mostly Colombians, Venezuelans and Haitians. “Today, families live there who six months or two years ago were ‘allegados’ living in overcrowded, informal, precarious or abusive conditions. That is what is understood as a housing deficit,” Fundación Techo Chile’s executive director, Sebastián Bowen, told IPS.

“The 81,000 families living in camps are the most visible part of the problem, but the housing deficit, covering all the families who do not have access to decent housing, exceeds 600,000,” he said.

The State provides some 20,000 social housing solutions each year, a figure that is highly insufficient to meet the current need.

According to Bowen, “if we want to solve the problem of the camps, we must structurally change our housing policy to guarantee access to decent housing, especially for the most vulnerable families.”

This explosion coincided with the social protests that began in October 2019 and with the arrival of coronavirus in the country in March 2020.

According to the National Socioeconomic Characterization Survey (Casen), 10.8 percent of Chileans currently live in poverty, which means more than two million people, although social organizations say the real proportion is much higher.

Chile, with a population of 19 million people, is considered one of the most unequal countries in the world, as reflected by the fact that the 10 percent of households with the highest incomes earn 251.3 times more than the 10 percent with the lowest income.

View of some of the houses in Cerro 18, a shantytown where 300 families live, most of them without even the most basic services. In what used to be a garbage dump, on the hillside of one of the wealthy neighborhoods of the Chilean capital, they have built their houses using scrap wood and waste materials. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

View of some of the houses in Cerro 18, a shantytown where 300 families live, most of them without even the most basic services. In what used to be a garbage dump, on the hillside of one of the wealthy neighborhoods of the Chilean capital, they have built their houses using scrap wood and waste materials. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

The new constitution holds out hope

Benito Baranda, founder of the Fundación Techo, an organization that now operates in several Latin American countries, believes that the housing policy failed because it focuses on “market-based eradication, forming housing ghettos on land where people continue to live in a segregated manner.”

This policy is also based on a structure of subsidies “born during the dictatorship and which has remained in place because housing is not a right recognized in the constitution,” Baranda, now a member of the Constitutional Convention that is drafting a new constitution, which will finally replace the one inherited from the 1973-1990 military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, told IPS.

“The decision of where people are going to live was handed over to the market. Not only the construction of housing. And the land began to run out and the available and cheap places were in the ghettos,” he explained.

Baranda criticized the policy of “eradication”, “which created ghettos and generated much greater harm for people,” referring to the forced expulsions of slumdwellers and their relocation to social housing built on the outskirts of the cities, a policy initiated during the Pinochet dictatorship and which crystallized social segregation in the capital.

According to Baranda, “in the last four governments there has been the least construction of housing for the poorest families.”

Baranda was elected to the constituent assembly in a special election in May and proposes “to generate a mechanism that will progressively reduce the waiting times for housing, which today can stretch out to 20 years.”

Twenty-story buildings, where each floor has 50 17-square-meter apartments, are called "vertical ghettos" and are inhabited mainly by immigrants. These ones are located in the Estación Central neighborhood, along Alameda Avenue that crosses Santiago de Chile. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Twenty-story buildings, where each floor has 50 17-square-meter apartments, are called “vertical ghettos” and are inhabited mainly by immigrants. These ones are located in the Estación Central neighborhood, along Alameda Avenue that crosses Santiago de Chile. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Privatization of social housing

Isabel Serra, an academic at the Diego Portales University Faculty of Architecture, believes that “the housing issue in Chile will be solved in some way through family networks…There is a lot of overcrowding here and small families are becoming the norm,” she told IPS.

According to Serra, the mushrooming of camps “clearly has to do with the influx of immigrants and this has grown especially in cities that are also functional or productive or extractivist hubs.”

She criticized the subsidy policy because these “are transferred to the private sector and what they do is drive up housing prices… and most of them are not used because they are not in line with the price of land and housing.”

“A highly financialized private market has made housing a tool for economic speculation…investors have decided to put their funds into the real estate market,” she said.

The problem has already reached the 155-member Constitutional Convention, which has been functioning since Jul. 4 and has a 12-month deadline to draft the new constitution, which must then be ratified in a plebiscite.

In September Melanni Salas and representatives of eight organizations met with Elisa Loncón, president of the Convention, to present her with the book “Constitution and Poverty”, which includes proposals to guarantee the right to housing.

“I hope they include this in the new constitution. The proposals were made by 25,000 excluded people…this document seeks to ensure that we are not left on the sidelines as always,” the community organizer explained.

A human right

Baranda said “in the constituent assembly we are working to get this enshrined as a right and to get the State to assume a leading role, not in the construction of housing itself, but in determining where people are going to live and creating the land bank that people have been demanding for so long.”

“We need the policies, by making land available and expropriating property that is not owned by the State, to create housing projects in places where there is social inclusion,” he stressed.

Serra agreed that “when the issue of housing is discussed in the constituent assembly, it will have to look at how the State buys and sells land.

“Housing is a basic human right and should be enshrined in the constitution, with all the parameters that are established for decent housing,” she argued.

Serra also called for “modernizing the instruments and the institutional framework dedicated to the provision of housing” because, she said, “currently the role of housing provision is clearly played by the market.”

She said it would require “a great deal of political will because land issues in general are political issues, very difficult to implement because there are many economic interests involved.”

Celia “Charito” Durán lives in the Mesana camp on Mariposas hill in the port city of Valparaíso, along with 165 other families, and counting.

The municipality delivers 3,000 liters of water per week to each house, using tanker trucks.

Durán said, however, that the priority is access “because if there is no road, we are cut off from everything: firefighters, water, ambulances.”

In Mesana there is no sewage system, only “cesspools, septic toilets and pipes through which people dump everything into the creek,” she told IPS by telephone.

On the hilltop the wind is very strong and every winter roofs are blown off and houses leak when it rains.

Durán, 56, has lived there since she was 37. She is confident that a solution to the social housing deficit will come out of the constituent assembly, after participating in meetings with Jaime Bassa, vice-president of the Constitutional Convention.

“We have the hope and expectation that the right to housing will be included. So, if tomorrow it is not fulfilled, you could go to the authorities with the right to protest about it,” she said.

“We want to be part of the city and not be segregated and forced to return to the camps,” Durán said.

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No Vaccine for the Pandemic of Violence Against Women in Latin America

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Regional Categories

Gender Violence

This article is part of IPS coverage of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25, which kicks off 16 days of activism on the issue around the world.

Despite restrictions due to covid, women from various feminist, youth and civil society groups gathered in the central Plaza San Martin in Lima and marched several blocks demanding justice and protesting impunity for violence against women, on Nov. 25, 2020. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Despite restrictions due to covid, women from various feminist, youth and civil society groups gathered in the central Plaza San Martin in Lima and marched several blocks demanding justice and protesting impunity for violence against women, on Nov. 25, 2020. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

LIMA, Nov 24 2021 (IPS) – Despite significant legal advances in Latin American countries to address gender-based violence, it continues to be a serious challenge, especially in a context of social crisis aggravated by the covid-19 pandemic, which hits women especially hard.


“Existing laws and regulations have not stopped the violence, including femicide (gender-based murders). There is a kind of paralysis at the Latin American level, on the part of the State and society, where we don’t want to take much notice of what is happening, and women are blamed,” said María Pessina Itriago, a professor and researcher and the director of the Gender Observatory at UTE University in Quito.

Pessina, a Venezuelan who lives in the Ecuadorian capital and spoke to IPS by telephone from the university, said violence against women is ageold, and “we are still considered second-class citizens who are not recognized as social subjects.” And this dates way back – to the slaughter of “witches” in Europe in the Middle Ages, for example, she added.

“It hasn’t been easy to achieve my independence, have my own income and raise my children. I have suffered humiliation and slander, but I knew who I was and what I wanted: to live in peace and have a home without violence.” — Teresa Farfán

“The genocide of women is something that has not stopped and now in the context of the pandemic has become more serious. I believe that, in reality, the pandemic that we have experienced for many years is precisely this, that of gender violence,” she remarked.

Her reflection came ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which is celebrated on Thursday, Nov. 25 and kicks off 16 days of activism up until Dec. 10, World Human Rights Day.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and U.N. Women warned in March that globally one in three women suffers gender-based violence. And that the problem, far from diminishing, had grown during the covid pandemic and the restrictions and lockdowns put in place to curb it.

The study “Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence”, which analyzed data from 2000 to 2018, is the most far-reaching produced by WHO on the topic.

The report, published in March of this year, stresses that violence against women is “pervasive and devastating” and affects one in three women with varying degrees of severity.

For Latin America and the Caribbean, the study puts the prevalence rate of violence among women aged 15 to 49 at 25 percent.

María Pessina Itriago is a professor, researcher and director of the Gender Observatory at UTE University in Quito. CREDIT: Courtesy of María Pessina

María Pessina Itriago is a professor, researcher and director of the Gender Observatory at UTE University in Quito. CREDIT: Courtesy of María Pessina

A regional epidemic during the global pandemic

With respect to femicides, the Gender Equality Observatory of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) reports that 4640 women died from this cause in 2019. The organization also called attention to the intensification of violence against girls and women during the pandemic.

The panorama is compounded by the gendered impacts of the pandemic on employment, which reduces women’s economic autonomy and makes them more vulnerable to violence.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the region of the Americas experienced the largest reduction in female employment during covid, a situation that will not be reversed in 2021.

Peruvian sociologist Cecilia Olea, of the non-governmental Articulación Feminista Marcosur (AFM), which is made up of 17 organizations from 11 countries – nine South American nations, Mexico and the Dominican Republic – said there have been significant advances in the last 30 years in the fight against gender violence.

Among them, she cited the fact that States recognize their responsibility for the problem and no longer consider it a private matter.

She also pointed out that Latin America is the only region in the world with a specific human rights treaty on the issue: the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, known as the Convention of Belem do Para after the Brazilian city where it was approved in 1994, which established women’s right to live free of violence and set the framework for national laws to address this violation of women’s rights.

However, Olea said in an interview with IPS in Lima that the legal and regulatory framework has not been accompanied by political strategies to change the social imaginary of masculinity and femininity, which would provide incentives to modify the culture of inequality between men and women; on the contrary, she said, the violence forms part of a culture of impunity.

“Males feel free to oppress and governments are failing in their responsibility to guarantee comprehensive sex education throughout the educational system, in primary school and technical and higher education; this program exists by law but implementation is deficient due to lack of training for teachers and the opportunity to train people in new forms of masculinity is lost, for example,” she remarked.

Olea, a feminist activist and one of the founders of the AFM, said that not only do governments have a responsibility to prevent, address and eradicate gender violence, but there is also an urgent need to ensure health services; justice with due diligence, as the current delays revictimize and inhibit the use of regulatory instruments; and budgets to correct the current shortfall that prevents a better response to this social problem.

Peruvian sociologist Cecilia Olea, a member of the Articulación Feminista Marcosur (AFM), which brings together feminist networks from 11 Latin American countries, takes part in a demonstration outside the Peruvian Health Ministry in Lima, demanding reproductive rights. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Peruvian sociologist Cecilia Olea, a member of the Articulación Feminista Marcosur (AFM), which brings together feminist networks from 11 Latin American countries, takes part in a demonstration outside the Peruvian Health Ministry in Lima, demanding reproductive rights. CREDIT: Mariela Jara/IPS

Cultural change in the new generations

Raised in a machista home, Pessina rebelled against gender norms from an early age and her constant questioning led her to come up with a new definition of how a good person should act.

“I believe that good people do not tolerate injustice or inequality of any kind, which is why I became a feminist about 15 years ago and I am very happy to be able to contribute a grain of sand with my students,” she said.

Pessina said the challenges to progress in the eradication of violence against women are to provide public policies with a budget to make them work; and to achieve an alliance between the State, civil society organizations and feminist movements to create a road map that incorporates excluded voices, such as those of indigenous women.

“The places where they can file reports are not near their towns, they have to go to other towns and when they get there they often cannot communicate in their own language because of the colonialist view that everything must be in Spanish, and there are no interpreters,” she complained.

Another part of the problem, she said, is that “the State itself blocks complaints and keeps these people marginalized, and they are not taken into account in the countries’ statistics on violence.”

The third challenge was to work with the media in Latin America because of their role in the construction of imaginaries, in order to generate the figure of the ombudsperson focused on gender to ensure that information is treated in a way that contributes to equality and does not reproduce discriminatory stereotypes.

Pessina said that what is needed is a cultural transformation driven by the new generations, in favor of gender equality.

“We see more young feminist women activists mobilizing to make it happen and they will make a turnaround; not now, but maybe in a decade we will be talking about other things. These new generations not only of women but of men, I think they are our hope for change,” she said.

Quechua Indian woman Teresa Farfán, in the foreground, stands with two other rural women with whom she shares work and experiences in her Andes highlands community in Peru. She is convinced that telling her personal story of gender-based violence can help other women in this situation to see that it is possible to escape from abuse. CREDIT: Courtesy of Teresa Farfán

Quechua Indian woman Teresa Farfán, in the foreground, stands with two other rural women with whom she shares work and experiences in her Andes highlands community in Peru. She is convinced that telling her personal story of gender-based violence can help other women in this situation to see that it is possible to escape from abuse. CREDIT: Courtesy of Teresa Farfán

“I wanted a home without violence”

Teresa Farfán reflects the lives of many Latin American women who are victims of machista violence, but with a difference: she left behind the circle of gender violence that so often takes place in the home itself.

She is 35 years old and describes herself as a peasant farmer, a single mother and a survivor of an attempted femicide. She was born and lives in the town of Lucre, an hour and a half drive from the city of Cuzco, the capital of ancient Peru, in the center of the country.

Like most of the local population, she is dedicated to family farming.

Nine years ago she separated from the father of her children who, she says, did not let her move forward.

“He wanted me just to take care of the cows, but I wanted to learn, to get training, and that made him angry. He even beat me and it was horrible, and at the police station they ignored my complaint. He kicked me out of the house and thought that out of fear I would come back, but I took my children and left,” she told IPS during a day of sharing with women in her community.

At her moment of need she didn’t receive the support of her family, who urged her to return, “because a woman must do what her husband says.”

But she did have supportive friends who gave her a hand, both inside and outside her community, as part of a sisterhood of Quechua indigenous peasant women like her in the Peruvian highlands.

“It hasn’t been easy to achieve my independence, have my own income and raise my children. I have suffered humiliation and slander, but I knew who I was and what I wanted: to live in peace and have a home without violence,” she said. A wish that remains elusive for millions of Latin American women.

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Social Movement Voices Fall on Deaf Ears of Governments at COP26

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Conferences, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Regional Categories

Climate Change

The climate summit COP26 was accompanied by protests by social movements, with demonstrators arriving in Glasgow from all over the world and expressing themselves in their own language or dressing up as dinosaurs to symbolize their criticism. But government delegates did not listen to their demands for ambitious and fair action to contain the global warming crisis. CREDIT: Laura Quiñones/UN

GLASGOW, Nov 11 2021 (IPS) – One element that runs through all social movement climate summits is their rejection of the official meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the low ambition of its outcomes – and the treaty’s 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) was no exception.


The leaders of the UNFCCC “gladly welcome those who caused the crisis. COP26 has done nothing but pretend and greenwash,” Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a member of the non-governmental organization Youth Advocates for Climate Action from the Philippines, told IPS during a rally at the Glasgow Screening Room, a few blocks from the venue where the official meeting is being held until Friday, Nov. 12.

The COP26 Coalition, the alternative summit to the climate conference, has been a motley crew of organizations and movements whose common demand was a real effort to fight the climate crisis through concrete and fair measures and whose 200 events in this Scottish city included workshops, forums, artistic presentations and protests, which ended on Wednesday, Nov. 10.

Among the demands with which the alternative meeting in Glasgow lobbied the 196 Parties to the UNFCCC were the abandonment of fossil fuels, the rejection of cosmetic solutions to the climate emergency, the demand for a just transition to a lower carbon economy and the call for reparations and redistribution of funds to indigenous communities and the global South.

The movement also called for a gender perspective in policies, climate justice – that those primarily responsible (developed nations) take responsibility and pay for their role -, respect for the rights of indigenous peoples, and a halt to air pollution.

Due to logistical issues and the limitations imposed by the covid-19 pandemic, which postponed the official summit for a year, the parallel sessions of the social movements were held in this Scottish city in a hybrid format, combining face-to-face and virtual participation. Exhibitors and online participants struggled with the quality of their internet connections.

One of the most unanimous and loudest criticisms from non-governmental social and environmental organizations focused on the exclusion of civil society groups from Latin America, Africa and Asia, due to the UK host government’s decision to modify the admission criteria according to the level of contagion in each country and the extent of vaccination.

In addition, they complained about the strict hurdles imposed by the COP26 presidency, held by the United Kingdom, supported by Italy, to the presence of NGO observers at the official negotiating tables, which undermined the transparency of the Glasgow process, whose agreements are to be embodied in a final declaration, which is weakening every day and whose final text will be released on Nov. 12 or 13, if the negotiations stretch out.

The alternative movement also had a formal but unofficial space in the so-called COP26 Green Zone, located in the same area as the official negotiations, in the center of Glasgow.

In the forums parallel to COP26 in Glasgow, indigenous women were major protagonists with their demands for respect for their rights and effective participation in the negotiations. In the picture, indigenous women delegates take part in a forum on women of the forest at the peoples' summit. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In the forums parallel to COP26 in Glasgow, indigenous women were major protagonists with their demands for respect for their rights and effective participation in the negotiations. In the picture, indigenous women delegates take part in a forum on women of the forest at the peoples’ summit. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In-depth solutions

One of their key proposals was for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty aimed at moving towards the end of the era of coal, gas and oil, the consumption of which is primarily responsible for the growing planetary climate emergency.

The initiative, which imitates the name of the treaty against nuclear weapons, demands an immediate end to the expansion of fossil fuel production, a fair phase-out and a just energy transition.

Countries and corporations “continue to invest capital in the extraction of fossil fuels. We need to see efforts to phase them out, to stop the financing, subsidies and exploitation of fossil fuels,” Tzeporah Berman, the Canadian chair of the anti-fossil fuel initiative, told IPS.

The idea for the treaty emerged in 2015 from a call by leaders and NGOs from Pacific island states – whose very existence is threatened by the climate crisis – and it was formally launched in 2020.

So far it has received the support of some 750 organizations, 12 cities, more than 2,500 scientists, academics, parliamentarians from around the world, and religious leaders, indigenous movements and more than 100 Nobel Prize winners.

Climate policies are the focus of COP26 which has addressed carbon market rules, at least 100 billion dollars a year in climate finance, gaps between emission reduction targets and necessary reductions, strategies for carbon neutrality by 2050, adaptation plans, and the working platform on local communities and indigenous peoples.

The International Rights of Nature Tribunal tried the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), parallel to COP26. In the case, Philippine activist Mitzi Jonelle Tan testified to the lack of effective action against the climate emergency. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The International Rights of Nature Tribunal tried the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), parallel to COP26. In the case, Philippine activist Mitzi Jonelle Tan testified to the lack of effective action against the climate emergency. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Indigenous people and rights of nature tribunal in the spotlight

Indigenous people, especially from the Amazon jungle, have been key participants at the latest edition of the alternative summit, with at least 40 activists present in Glasgow to complain about harassment by the government of far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and demand more protection for the rainforest, whose destruction can have dramatic effects on the environmental health of the planet.

“Our main demand is demarcation of our territories,” because this guarantees a number of rights, Cristiane Pankararu, a member of the Pankararu people and leader of Brazil’s non-governmental National Association of Indigenous Women Warriors (ANMIGA), told IPS.

Her organization belongs to the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, whose demands are demarcation, climate solutions based on indigenous peoples’ knowledge and practices, and investment in forest protection.

One of the most symbolic activities of the counter-summit was the Fifth International Rights of Nature Tribunal, which tried the cases of “False solutions to the climate change crisis” and “The Amazon, a threatened living entity”.

In the first verdict, the tribunal, which sat for the first time in 2014 and was composed this time of seven judges from six countries, found the UNFCCC at fault for failing to attack the roots of the climate emergency.

In the second ruling, the jury, composed of nine experts from seven countries, accused developed countries and China, as well as agricultural, mining and food corporations, of destroying the Amazon, the planet’s main rainforest ecosystem, which is threatened by these extractive activities.

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, listed three serious problems: the role of large corporations, the protection of corporate intellectual property, and the power of corporations to sue states that want to protect the environment, in international arbitration tribunals.

“It is a profound symptom of how the global economy protects the interests of large corporations, especially extractive ones, and that has not been addressed at the COP,” he told IPS.

A dialogue of the deaf has prevailed between the UNFCCC and civil society, as the official summit has ignored the demands of social movements.

“They have not listened to us. We are here to demand action. We don’t need another COP to solve the climate crisis, we need change,” Tan complained.

Despite the obstacles, “we will not stop participating actively. The women’s movement is unifying. It is a slow process, because people are not used to being led by women,” Pankararu said.

IPS produced this article with the support of Iniciativa Climática of Mexico and the European Climate Foundation.

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Argentina’s Small Farming Communities Reach Consumers Online

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Cooperatives, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Green Economy, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Projects, Regional Categories

Food and Agriculture

This article is part of IPS’ coverage of World Food Day, celebrated Oct. 16, whose 2021 theme is: Grow, nourish, sustain. Together.

One of the Argentine small farmer groups participating in the digital marketing project uses agroecological irrigation and tomato crushing techniques in the province of Mendoza. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

One of the Argentine small farmer groups participating in the digital marketing project uses agroecological irrigation and tomato crushing techniques in the province of Mendoza. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

BUENOS AIRES, Oct 14 2021 (IPS) – “The biggest problem for family farmers has always been to market and sell what they produce, at a fair price,” says Natalia Manini, a member of the Union of Landless Rural Workers (UST), a small farmers organisation in Argentina that has been taking steps to forge direct ties with consumers.


The UST, which groups producers of fresh vegetables, preserves and honey, as well as goat and sheep breeders, from the western province of Mendoza, opened its own premises in April in the provincial capital of the same name.

In addition, it has just joined Alma Nativa (“native soul”), a network created to market and sell products from peasant and indigenous organisations, which brings together more than 4,300 producers grouped in 21 organisations, and now sells its products over the Internet.

“Selling wholesale to a distributor is simple, but the problem is that a large part of the income does not reach the producer,” Manini told IPS from the town of Lavalle in Mendoza province.

“The aim is to mobilise consumers to buy products from Latin American ecosystems that are made with respect for the environment, while small producers benefit from visibility and logistical support so that local products reach the entire country.” — Guadalupe Marín

The rural leader argues that, due to cost considerations, farmers can only access fair trade through collective projects, which have received a boost from the acceleration of digital changes generated by the covid-19 pandemic.

Alma Nativa is a marketing and sales solution formally created in 2018 by two Argentine non-governmental organisations (NGOs) focused on socio-environmental issues: Fibo Social Impact and the Cultural Association for Integral Development (ACDI). Their approach was to go a step beyond the scheme of economic support for productive development projects.

“Back in 2014 we began to ask ourselves why small farmer and indigenous communities could not secure profitable prices for the food and handicrafts they produce, and to think about how to get farmers to stop depending on donations and subsidies from NGOs and the state,” Fibo director Gabriela Sbarra told IPS in an interview in Buenos Aires.

Sbarra was a regular participant in regional community product fairs, which prior to the restrictions put in place due to the pandemic were often organised in Argentina by the authorities, who financed the setting up of the stands, accommodation and travel costs from their communities for farmers and craftspeople.

It was only thanks to this economic aid that farmers and artisans were able to make a profit.

“The effort was geared towards finding a genuine market for these products, which could not be sold online because it is very difficult to generate traffic on the Internet and they cannot reach supermarkets either, because they have no production volume. Informality was leaving communities out of the market,” Sbarra explained.

Three cooperatives in the Chaco region, the great forested plain that Argentina shares with Bolivia and Paraguay, are dedicated to honey production and are part of the Alma Nativa project, through which they sell their products to consumers throughout the country via the Internet. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

Three cooperatives in the Chaco region, the great forested plain that Argentina shares with Bolivia and Paraguay, are dedicated to honey production and are part of the Alma Nativa project, through which they sell their products to consumers throughout the country via the Internet. CREDIT: Nicolás Heredia/Alma Nativa

E-commerce, the new market

So the founders of Alma Nativa knocked on the doors of Mercado Libre, an e-commerce giant born in Argentina that has expanded throughout most of Latin America. The company agreed not to charge commissions for sales by an online store of agroecological food produced by local communities.

Alma Nativa then set up a warehouse in the town of Villa Madero, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, where products arriving from rural communities throughout the country are labeled for distribution.

“The pandemic has created an opportunity, because it helped to open a debate about what we eat. Many people began to question how food is produced and even forced agribusiness companies to think about more sustainable production systems,” said Manini.

Norberto Gugliotta, manager of the Cosar Beekeeping Cooperative, emphasised that the pandemic not only accelerated the process of digitalisation of producers and consumers, but also fueled the search by a growing part of society for healthy food produced in a socially responsible manner.

“We were prepared to seize the opportunity, because our products were ready, so we joined Alma Nativa this year,” said the beekeeper from the town of Sauce Viejo. Gugliotta is the visible face of a cooperative made up of some 120 producers in the province of Santa Fe, in the centre of this South American country, who produce certified organic, fair trade honey.

Argentina, Latin America’s third largest economy, is an agricultural powerhouse, with a powerful agribusiness sector whose main products are soybeans, corn and soybean oil, which in 2020 generated 26.3 billion dollars in exports, according to official figures.

Behind the success lies a huge universe of family farmers and peasant and indigenous communities. According to the latest National Agricultural Census, carried out in 2018, more than 90 percent of the country’s 250,881 farms are family-run.

But the infrastructure and technological lag in rural areas is significant, as demonstrated by the fact that only 35 percent of farms have Internet access.

The deprivation is particularly acute in the Chaco, a neglected region in the north of the country, home to some 200,000 indigenous people belonging to nine groups whose economy is closely linked to natural resources, according to the non-governmental Fundapaz.

Indigenous artisans from the Pilagá community in the northern province of Formosa, within the Gran Chaco region, have begun selling their baskets online throughout Argentina. CREDIT: Rosario Bobbio/Alma Nativa

Indigenous artisans from the Pilagá community in the northern province of Formosa, within the Gran Chaco region, have begun selling their baskets online throughout Argentina. CREDIT: Rosario Bobbio/Alma Nativa

New platform for indigenous handicrafts

Communities from the Chaco, a vast region of low forests and savannas and rich biodiversity covering more than one million square km in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, which is home to a diversity of native peoples, also began to market their handicrafts over Mercado Libre in the last few weeks.

“This initiative originated in Brazil with the ‘Amazonia em Pé’ programme and today we are replicating it in Argentina, in the Gran Chaco area. It seeks to build bridges between local artisans and consumers throughout the country,” explained Guadalupe Marín, director of sustainability at Mercado Libre.

“The aim is to mobilise consumers to buy products from Latin American ecosystems that are made with respect for the environment, while small producers benefit from visibility and logistical support so that local products reach the entire country,” she told IPS in Buenos Aires.

On Sept. 27, Mercado Libre launched the campaign “From the Gran Chaco, for you”, which offers for sale more than 2,500 products in 200 categories, such as baskets, indigenous and local art, decorative elements made with natural fibers, honey, weavings and handmade games.

It includes not only Alma Nativa, but also Emprendedores por Naturaleza (“entrepreneurs by/for nature”), a programme launched by the environmental foundation Rewilding Argentina, which works for the conservation of the Chaco and now promotes the sale of products made by 60 families living in rural areas adjacent to the El Impenetrable national park, the largest protected area in the region.

“The idea for the project arose last year, after we conducted a socioeconomic survey among 250 families in the area that found that the only income of 98 percent of them comes from welfare,” said Fatima Hollmann, regional coordinator of the Rewilding Argentina Communities Programme.

She told IPS that “people raise livestock for subsistence and sometimes work on fencing a field or some other temporary task, but there are no steady sources of employment in El Impenetrable.”

“That is why we are trying to generate income for local residents,” Hollmann explained in an interview in Buenos Aires. “Our production lines are focused on ceramics, since most people have built their houses there with adobe. Many also know how to make bricks and we have held trainings to teach people to turn a brick into an artistic piece, inspired by native fauna, which transmits the importance of conserving the forest.”

According to the figures released by the expert during the first week of the programme “From the Gran Chaco, for you” in early October, 644 products were offered for sale, of which 382 were sold to buyers from more than 10 Argentine provinces, including 100 percent of the textiles available and 76 percent of the wooden handicrafts.

“The alternative is to cut down the native forests,” Hollmann says. “We are proposing a transition from an extractivist economy to a regenerative one, which contributes to the reconstruction of the ecosystem, and gives consumers in the cities the chance to contribute to that goal.”

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Water Harvesting Strengthens Food Security in Central America

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Food & Agriculture, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Water & Sanitation

Angélica María Posada, a teacher and school principal in the village of El Guarumal, in eastern El Salvador, poses with primary school students in front of the school where they use purified water collected from rainfall, as part of a project promoted by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. The initiative is being implemented in the countries of the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Angélica María Posada, a teacher and school principal in the village of El Guarumal, in eastern El Salvador, poses with primary school students in front of the school where they use purified water collected from rainfall, as part of a project promoted by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. The initiative is being implemented in the countries of the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

SENSEMBRA, El Salvador , Jun 23 2021 (IPS) – At the school in El Guarumal, a remote village in eastern El Salvador, the children no longer have to walk several kilometers along winding paths to fetch water from wells; they now “harvest” it from the rain that falls on the roofs of their classrooms.


“The water is not only for the children and us teachers, but for the whole community,” school principal Angelica Maria Posada told IPS, sitting with some of her young students at the foot of the tank that supplies them with purified water.

The village is located in the municipality of Sensembra, in the eastern department of Morazán, where it forms part of the so-called Central American Dry Corridor, a semi-arid belt that covers 35 percent of Central America and is home to some 11 million people, mostly engaged in subsistence agriculture.

In the Corridor, 1,600 kilometers long, water is always scarce and food production is a challenge, with more than five million people at risk of food insecurity.

In El Guarumal, a dozen peasant families have dug ponds or small reservoirs and use the rainwater collected to irrigate their home gardens and raise tilapia fish as a way to combat drought and produce food.

“We are all very proud of this initiative, because we are the only school in the country that has a (rainwater harvesting) system like this.” — Angélica María Posada

This effort, called the Rainwater Harvesting System (RHS), has not only been made in El Salvador.

Similar initiatives have been promoted in five other Central American countries as part of the Mesoamerica Hunger Free programme, implemented since 2015 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and financed by the Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation (Amexcid).

The aim of the RHS was to create the conditions for poor, rural communities in the Dry Corridor to strengthen food security by harvesting water to irrigate their crops and raise fish.

In Guatemala, work has been done to strengthen an ancestral agroforestry system inherited from the Chortí people, called Koxur Rum, which conserves more moisture in the soil and thus improves the production of corn and beans, staples of the Central American diet.

José Evelio Chicas, a teacher at the school in the village of El Guarumal, in El Salvador's eastern department of Morazán, supervises the PVC pipes that carry rainwater collected from the school's roof to an underground tank, from where it is pumped to a filtering and purification station. The initiative is part of a water harvesting project in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

José Evelio Chicas, a teacher at the school in the village of El Guarumal, in El Salvador’s eastern department of Morazán, supervises the PVC pipes that carry rainwater collected from the school’s roof to an underground tank, from where it is pumped to a filtering and purification station. The initiative is part of a water harvesting project in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

“The best structure for conserving water is the soil, and that is where we have to work,” Baltazar Moscoso, national coordinator of Mesoamerica Hunger Free, told IPS by telephone from Guatemala City.

Healthy schools in El Salvador

The principal of the El Guarumal school, where 47 girls, 32 boys and several adolescents study, said that since the water collection and purification system has been in place, gastrointestinal ailments have been significantly reduced.

“The children no longer complain about stomachaches, like they used to,” said Posada, 47, a divorced mother of three children: two girls and one boy.

She added, “The water is 100 percent safe.”

Before it is purified, the rainwater that falls on the tin roof is collected by gutters and channeled into an underground tank with a capacity of 105,000 litres.

Farmer Cristino Martínez feeds the tilapia he raises in the pond dug next to his house in the village of El Guarumal in eastern El Salvador. A dozen ponds like this one were created in the village to help poor rural families produce food in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Farmer Cristino Martínez feeds the tilapia he raises in the pond dug next to his house in the village of El Guarumal in eastern El Salvador. A dozen ponds like this one were created in the village to help poor rural families produce food in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

It is then pumped to a station where it is filtered and purified, before flowing into the tank which supplies students, teachers and the community.

The school reopened for in-person classes in March, following the shutdown declared by the government in 2020 to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are all very proud of this initiative, because we are the only school in the country that has a system like this,” added the principal.

There are 40 families living in El Guarumal, but a total of 150 families benefit from the system installed in the town, because people from other communities also come to get water.

A similar system was installed in 2017 in Cerrito Colorado, a village in the municipality of San Isidro, Choluteca department in southern Honduras, which benefits 80 families, including those from the neighbouring communities of Jicarito and Obrajito.

Rainwater is filtered and purified in a room adjacent to the classrooms of the school in the village of El Guarumal, in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. Gastrointestinal ailments were reduced with the implementation of this project executed by FAO and financed by Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Rainwater is filtered and purified in a room adjacent to the classrooms of the school in the village of El Guarumal, in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. Gastrointestinal ailments were reduced with the implementation of this project executed by FAO and financed by Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Vegetable gardens and tilapias boost food security

About 20 minutes from the school in El Guarumal, following a narrow dirt road that winds along the mountainside, you reach the house of Cristino Martínez, who grows tomatoes and raises tilapia in the pond dug next to his home.

The ponds are pits dug in the ground and lined with a polyethylene geomembrane, a waterproof synthetic material. They hold up to 25,000 litres of rainwater.

“The pond has served me well, I have used it for both the tilapia and watering tomatoes, beans and chayote (Sechium edule),” Martínez told IPS, standing at the edge of the pond, while tossing food to the fish.

The cost of the school’s water harvesting system and the 12 ponds totaled 77,000 dollars.

Martínez has not bothered to keep a precise record of how many tilapias he raises, because he does not sell them, he said. The fish feed his large family of 13: he and his wife and their 11 children (seven girls and four boys).

And from time to time he receives guests in his adobe house.

“My sisters come from San Salvador and tell me: ‘Cristino, we want to eat some tilapia,’ and my daughters throw the nets and start catching fish,” said the 50-year-old farmer.

Cristino Martínez and one of his daughters show the tilapia they have just caught in the family pond they have dug in the backyard of their home in the village of El Guarumal in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. The large peasant family raises fish for their own consumption and not for sale. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Cristino Martínez and one of his daughters show the tilapia they have just caught in the family pond they have dug in the backyard of their home in the village of El Guarumal in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. The large peasant family raises fish for their own consumption and not for sale. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

According to FAO estimates, the ponds can provide about 500 fishes two to three times a year.

The ponds are built on the highest part of each farm, and the drip irrigation system uses gravity to water the crops or orchards planted on the slopes.

Tomatoes are Martínez’s main crop. He has 100 seedlings planted, and manages to produce good harvests, marketing his produce in the local community.

“The pond helps me in the summer to water the vegetables I grow downhill,” another beneficiary of the programme, Santos Henríquez, also a native of El Guarumal, told IPS.

Henríquez’s 1.5-hectare plot is one of the most diversified: in addition to tilapias, corn and a type of bean locally called “ejote”, he grows cucumbers, chili peppers, tomatoes, cabbage and various types of fruit, such as mangoes, oranges and lemons.

“We grow a little bit of everything,” Henríquez, 48, said proudly. He sells the surplus produce in the village or at Sensembra.

However, some beneficiary families have underutilised the ponds. They were initially enthusiastic about the effort, but began to let things slide when the project ended in 2018.

A farmer proudly displays some of the tomatoes he has grown in the region known as Mancomunidad Copán Chortí in eastern Guatemala, which includes the municipalities of Camotán, Jocotán, Olopa and San Juan Ermita, in the department of Chiquimula. Water harvesting initiatives have been implemented in the area to improve agricultural production in this region, which is part of the so-called Central American Dry Corridor. The initiative is supported by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: FAO Guatemala

A farmer proudly displays some of the tomatoes he has grown in the region known as Mancomunidad Copán Chortí in eastern Guatemala, which includes the municipalities of Camotán, Jocotán, Olopa and San Juan Ermita, in the department of Chiquimula. Water harvesting initiatives have been implemented in the area to improve agricultural production in this region, which is part of the so-called Central American Dry Corridor. The initiative is supported by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: FAO Guatemala

An ageold Chorti technique in Guatemala

In Guatemala, meanwhile, some villages and communities are betting on an agroforestry technique from their ancestral culture: Koxur Rum, which means “wet land” in the language of the Chortí indigenous people, who also live in parts of El Salvador and Honduras.

The system allows corn and bean crops to retain more moisture with the rains by combining them with furrows of shrubs or trees such as madre de cacao or quickstick (Gliricidia sepium), a tree species that helps fix nitrogen in the soil.

By pruning the trees regularly, leaves and crop stubble cover and protect the soil, thereby better retaining moisture and nutrients.

“Quickstick sprouts quickly and gives abundant foliage to incorporate into the soil,” farmer Rigoberto Suchite told IPS in a telephone interview from the village of Minas Abajo, in the municipality of San Juan Ermita, Chiquimula department in eastern Guatemala, also located in the Central American Dry Corridor.

Suchite said the system was revived in his region in 2000, but with the FAO and Amexcid project, it has become more technical.

As part of the programme, some 150 families have received two 1,500-litre tanks and a drip irrigation system, he added.

“Now we are expanding it even more because it has given us good results, it has improved the soil and boosted production,” said Suchite, 55.

In the dry season, farmers collect water from nearby springs in tanks and, using gravity, irrigate their home gardens.

“Many families are managing to have a surplus of vegetables and with the sales, they buy other necessary food,” Suchite said.

The programme is scheduled to end in Guatemala in 2021, and local communities must assume the lessons learned in order to move forward.

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