Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean
Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
In the Spotlight: Moutain Areas
and assessment of the qocha system in the northern basin of Lake Titicaca
One of the characteristics of Andean agricultural systems, particularly in the highlands of Lake Titicaca, is the extreme climatic variability they must face from year to year and even within the same year. Prolonged droughts, floods, hailstorms and frost severely increase the risk of lost crops, and call for appropriate technological solutions.
Pre-Hispanic cultures farming in highlands such as the northern basin of Lake Titicaca engaged in practical landscaping to attenuate climatic effects, improve the soil and maximize water resources. They employed terraces and complex ridge systems (known as waru waru or sucaccollos) that helped to retain watertechnologies that are now being rediscovered and used in the Peruvian and Bolivian plateaus, and that reveal how effectively the Andean cultures worked with the specificities of their environment to obtain sustainable results.
Another type of infrastructure that has been little studied is the qocha, or sunken pool. Qochas were dug in networks, so that water could flow from one to the other as needed, and they are still used today along the northern basin due to their effectiveness in water collection and redistribution without the need for elaborate mechanical pumping and irrigation systems.
Research on the subject was conducted at the peasant community of Llallahua-Pajchapata, in Puno Department. This high-plateau community suffers from temperatures that fluctuate year-round between minus 2°C and 12°C. It has three different productive areas: the pampas or flatlands (with and without qochas), the slopes, and the high country, all of which differ widely in terms not just of altitude but also of soil, angle, and microclimate. The qocha system is widely used, mostly in the pampa areas.
Findings indicated that the use of qochas in the flatlands and of terraces and ridges on slopes lead to crops that are highly stable in their output regardless of annual climate variations, even if they do not lead to the highest productivity levels. If this is so, such practices should be encouraged in the Peruvian high plateau region, where somewhat lower productivity is an entirely acceptable trade-off if crop stability can be ensured.
In areas without such agricultural landscaping or topography management, yields can be very unstable. In good years, everything is finebut in bad years, the yields can drop to the point where food security is threatened.
Given the high climatic variability of the Andean plateaus, which cannot be modified with invasive technologies, it makes sense to adopt the practices that worked so well for peoples who had to rely on human and animal power alone and did not even have access to the wheel. The use of qochas, terraces and ridges is a viable and time-tested way of reducing the impact of bad years on food security. It also helps to reduce landslides and other natural hazards that ordinarily plague mountain regions.
Roberto Valdivia and Jorge Reinoso work for the Research Center on Natural resources and Environment (CIRNMA), in Puno, Peru. Elías Mujica works for the Andean Institute of Archeological Studies (INDEA) and the Consortium for the Sustainable development of the Andean Eco-region (CONDESAN).
For more information,
please contact: Roberto Valdina,
* Roberto Valdivia and Jorge Reinoso work for the Research Center on Natural resources and Environment (CIRNMA), in Puno, Peru. Elías Mujica works for the Andean Institute of Archeological Studies (INDEA) and the Consortium for the Sustainable development of the Andean Eco-region (CONDESAN).