In the Cajamarquino watershed of northern Peru, SANE had the opportunity to work with, and build on, a locally initiated process of sustainable development that had been underway for more than a decade. Central to this process were two efforts:

  1. A participatory rural development program initiated in the early 1980s by the Team for Agricultural Development of Cajamarca (Equipo para el Desarrollo Agropecuario de Cajamarca: led by the NGO EDAC-CIED). Their efforts were focused on resource conservation and improving peasant livelihoods in two of the regionís sub-watersheds.
  2. An innovative process set in motion by the mayor and his local government and involving actors from business, civil society and government: the Round Table Process for Democracy and Sustainable Development.

With Cajamarca now priding itself as Peruís first "ecological municipality", SANEís role became one of supporting and strengthening key aspects of the work that was already underway. The goal was to help Cajamarca become a true agroecological lighthouse for the Andean region. To understand SANEís role, it is necessary first to describe the conditions in Cajamarca, along with the activities of both EDAC-CIED and the Round Table Process for Democracy and Sustainable Development.

Conditions in Cajamarca

The province of Cajamarca is located in the Andean mountains of northern Peru, between 2,000 and 4,000 meters in elevation. Its population, numbering around 250,000, is 70% rural, and is among the countryís poorest. The majority of the rural population is made up of peasants who farm very small parcels on exposed and eroded hillsides.

Traditional Inca agriculture had very cleverly combined irrigation and soil conservation techniques with a great diversity of species and varieties of perennial and annual crops, along with animals adapted to each ecological niche. These systems were reliable and self-sufficient until the social structures necessary to maintain them collapsed with Spanish colonization, resulting in the abandonment and deterioration of irrigation channels and soil conserving terraces.

In the 19th century, the hacienda system expanded to supply meat and grain to the booming sugar plantations of Peruís north coast. Though transportation out of the Andean valleys was by mule train and extremely arduous, Cajamarca nevertheless developed links to a regional economy. The local campesinos that lost their land to the haciendas went into peonage, moved onto marginal lands, or migrated to work on the coastal plantations. By the mid-twentieth century Cajamarcaís principal agricultural activity had shifted to dairy production, involving not only medium and large-scale producers, but also small farmers with at least 5 hectares. With land reform in the 1960s, the large holdings were broken up and by 1970, many haciendas were converted into agricultural cooperatives. While these moves were acclaimed as necessary social reforms, no attention was paid to the needs of small farmers who accounted for over 80% of the production units. Tension erupted between those who benefited from the land reform and the rest of the campesino sector who found themselves marginalized. The region descended into conflict, landholdings became increasingly fragmented due to population growth; traditional cultivation practices were lost and environmental deterioration accelerated. Cultivated area per family now varies from four hectares to less than one in the crowded middle slopes, while the 4-20 hectare properties in the lower slopes are considered rich by the regionís standards1.

Cajamarca has Peruís highest rate of peasant out-migration. Traditionally, people left to work as wage laborers in the coastal valleys. They are now increasingly going east to the Amazonian region, where many find themselves drawn into cocaine production and trafficking networks. Among those who are able to hold onto their land, the poorest families are not able to produce enough to fulfill their barest nutritional needs and thus, one or more family members must periodically migrate to earn a little cash in other regions. In the worst cases, their source of income is from begging in Lima. The more fortunate migrants find work in cotton and rice production along the Pacific coast. Local sources of income include brick making and various kinds of handicrafts (hats, weaving, etc.) which are sold in the city of Cajamarca, in Trujillo or Lima. In most cases, both seasonal and permanent migrants are young men and heads of households. This means that women are frequently left in charge of agriculture and animal production.

With environmental decay and the loss of opportunities in the countryside, rural to urban migration has accelerated. The population of the city of Cajamarca has doubled in the last 20 years to 110,000, straining city services, and seriously contributing to the high level of urban poverty.


In the context of this rapidly deteriorating situation, a group of young agronomists, recent graduates from the National University of Cajamarca, came together in 1983 to create the Team for Cajamarcaís Agricultural Development (EDAC - Equipo de Desarrollo Agropecuario de Cajamarca, a subsidiary of the Lima-based NGO CIED). They committed themselves to addressing the regionís poverty and environmental degradation through a program of sustainable rural development for the watershed of the Mashcon, home to some 3,000 farm families. EDACís goal was to set up a mechanism for integrated resource management of the Mashcon. They began by working with local campesinos to promote conservation of natural resources while at the same time increasing the output of their food crops and livestock. This meant developing irrigation and drinking water systems, together with education and training for local campesino leaders. In time, EDAC was able to strengthen several grassroots organizations and help them set up a Central Committee to take charge of managing their own watershed both for conservation and for sustainable development. Throughout this process, EDAC encouraged a respect for traditional knowledge and values and emphasized participatory methods.

By the early 1990s, the EDAC-campesino collaboration had accomplished much. Campesinos addressed soil erosion by restoring the old traditional terraces and building new ones. They dug irrigation canals and more than doubled the amount of irrigated cropland. They established tree nurseries, reintroduced a variety of native species, and through agroforestry improved soil fertility and crop diversity. They also introduced crop rotation and pasture improvements, began composting and established home vegetable production2.

Since the campesinos were particularly concerned about the quality of their seed, EDAC helped them set up a seed bank to preserve and improve the local varieties, particularly of potatoes, and in the process they began to recover local knowledge. This seed stock, along with a variety of small domestic animals (guinea pigs, rabbits, chickens, etc.) became the capital for a revolving "credit-in-kind" fund, enabling farmers to borrow seed and animals and later pay back from their harvest or animal offspring.

The campesinos that integrated the agroecological techniques in the management of their natural resources achieved dramatic increases in crop yields, including a 140% increase in potato production, their principal food crop. In a period of six years, successful campesino families had managed to increase the income from the sale of their farm products almost fivefold (from US $108 to $500) as well as improve their diet and reduce their reliance on outmigration and wage labor. Yet as impressive as these gains are, they are benefiting less than ten percent of the 30,000 farm families of the Cajamarquino watershed. A process of scaling up and diffusing these approaches was therefore called for, but this required the involvement and commitment of a broader set of organizations and actors.

The Round Table Process for Democracy and Sustainable Development

With rapid urban growth, serious deterioration of both rural and urban environments, and deepening poverty, the provincial government realized it was facing a crisis situation. In 1993, a newly elected municipal government took office, committed to sustainable development and an agenda that included strengthening participatory democracy, decentralizing power, ensuring the rule of law, and initiating a dialogue on the regionís future. One of its first steps was therefore to bring together through a series of encounters individuals from a variety of local groups and organizations representing NGOs like EDAC, together with other actors from civil society, business and government. Their mandate was to analyze the problems the province was facing and to come up with a strategy for addressing them, working within the guidelines of Agenda 21 proposed by the Earth Summit in 1992. Thus began Cajamarcaís remarkable Round Table Process for Democracy and Sustainable Development, a participatory process that eventually produced the comprehensive Plan for Sustainable Development for the Province of Cajamarca and created new institutional arrangements to deal with local problems3.

To arrive at the Plan, participants in the Round Table Process had first to scrutinize the central governmentís development policies and their consequences for Cajamarca. They recognized that the Peruvian governmentís highly centralized structure had kept the province from addressing its own problems, precluding local governments from managing provincial resources for the benefit of local residents. In Peru municipalities are authorized to clean the streets, maintain the parks, and keep civil and county records, but they have not had the authority to undertake or manage their own development projects. Consequently, development projects launched for the region by the central government have resulted in considerable waste and duplication of effort, given the lack of coordination among the various agencies involved as well as the absence of any local accountability.

For the Round Table participants, the main issue soon focused on opening up the local government structure that had thus far been closed to any input from the local level. One option was to wait for the State to begin a process of decentralization. Alternatively, they themselves could choose to take charge of their own future development. Without ignoring the constraints created by the macro context within which they had to function, Cajamarca officials were nevertheless convinced that it was possible to initiate programs at their local level without waiting for reforms at the national level. Already the municipal government had taken the first step towards local autonomy by setting up the Round Table itself, thereby bringing together the various local interests to articulate a shared vision for Cajamarcaís future. This vision was then formalized in the Plan for Sustainable Development for the Province of Cajamarca. To ensure that the concerns of all the sectors of the community were addressed, they set up six specialized Round Table working groups:

1. Education

2. Agriculture and natural resources;

3. Production and employment

4. Cultural heritage and tourism

5. The urban environment

6. Women, population and the family

Each working group was responsible for formulating its own strategic plan, within the guidelines of the overall provincial vision. The painstaking work of creating consensus around that plan in turn led the participants to commit to support the projects they had determined were essential for local development. The old problem of overlap and duplication of effort was eliminated because each agency, as a condition for participation in the process, agreed to coordinate its efforts and collaborate with the other implementing organizations. The final version of the Plan was submitted to a province-wide referendum in August 1994. Endorsement by the voters established the Planís legitimacy through a democratic process and enhances the likelihood that this landmark agreement between civil society and the local government is politically sustainable. Broadening support for the Plan in this way was a recognition of the need to move it beyond the arena of short-term partisan politics to ensure a long-term and sustained commitment to achieving its objectives.

By invoking the principles of Agenda 21, to which the Peruvian government was a signatory, the local authority had asserted its role not only as a provider of municipal services, but had moved beyond this narrowly defined role to claim for itself the role of planner and implementor. The municipal governmentís assumption of this expanded authority was then affirmed and legitimized by the people who would be directly affected.

The Cajamarca Plan

The conceptual framework of the Plan embraces a provincial development strategy that is environmentally sustainable and links the need for economic growth with the need to ensure a balanced management of ecosystems in both rural and urban areas. For example, it was recognized that a major challenge for Cajamarca is to improve the living conditions of its small farmers, and that central to achieving this objective are programs that address soil erosion on the hillsides where farmer families live. Another challenge is to ensure that local mining operations donít contaminate the environment. Fiscally they sought to ensure that a portion of the central governmentís tax revenues be returned for local investment.

Throughout Peru today, municipalities, businesses, institutions and popular organizations are playing an increasingly strategic role in a process of decentralizing government and bringing development under local control. Cajamarca believes that since its own experience of opening a dialogue between the State and civil society is already bearing fruit, it is in a position to serve as a model to broaden democratic participation, build peace and help set Peru on a path of sustainable development. This impulse to share its experience more broadly is entirely consistent with SANEís objectives of creating regional lighthouses for the diffusion of the agroecological approach to rural regeneration.

Enter SANE

Given this context of a strong political commitment, broad-based support for sustainable agricultural development, and the desire to disseminate its experience more broadly, the opportunity was ripe for the SANE process to help strengthen and accelerate the very kind of a process it was attempting to foment elsewhere. It is important to reiterate here that SANE is not attempting to impose its own blueprint for rural development, but instead to work with and strengthen existing local initiatives. This strategy favors a more rapid move toward a form of agriculture that is both productive and resource conserving, within a framework of social equity and economic viability. The specific challenge in Cajamarca, as identified by both the local Round Table Process as well as by SANE, is to scale up the existing promising efforts by EDAC in the Mashcon and Chonta watersheds. A successful impact over the entire Cajamarquino watershed would embark 30,000 farmers on the path of sustainable development. With such an achievement, Cajamarca can become a powerful agroecological lighthouse for the entire Andean region.

Discussions between SANE, Cajamarcaís Agricultural and Natural Resources Round Table, EDAC and SANEís Peruvian partner CIED (Centro de Investigacion, Educacion y Desarrollo), identified a number of areas in need of assistance. Activities were proposed that would both strengthen Cajamarcaís conversion towards sustainable agriculture as well as move Cajamarca closer towards becoming a lighthouse. The areas identified for support included:

1. Soil conservation

2. Market linkages

3. Education and training

4. Public outreach through radio and television

5. Institutional capacity building

All five of these areas are consistent with the categories SANE has identified as key components of an agroecological lighthouse (see pages 5-8). Soil conservation falls within one of the internal lighthouse goals (under Agroecological Techniques), while the other four all fall under the lighthouseís external goals. With modest assistance from SANE in 1995, a series of activities described below were initiated in each of the five areas.

1. Soil Conservation

Activity: Evaluate and improve upon existing soil management practices.

Soil erosion is the number one problem facing agriculture in Cajamarca. Over the years, a number of different institutions, both government and private, have accumulated significant experience on soil conservation strategies. SANE considered it important to take advantage of these experiences so that future efforts would not have to reinvent the wheel, but rather identify and improve upon the most promising approaches. SANE therefore supported research to evaluate existing soil management practices being implemented in six micro-watersheds. The evaluation, conducted by a team of six NGOs and an external consultant, employed criteria that included a consideration of the physical, biological, agronomic as well as economic benefits.

The team found that major benefits include erosion control, water harvesting, recovery of degraded land, expansion of cultivated areas, increased food security, diversification of crops, better nutrition, significant yield increases and a reduction of seasonal migration. However, they also found that increases in income were limited to a small sector of the target population, mostly those involved in commercial milk production or off-season potato production with sprinkler irrigation. They realized that adoption of soil conservation measures depended on outside subsidies that had been provided free of charge by NGOs. While this might be justified in the case of extreme poverty, it runs the risk of creating farmer dependency on the supporting NGOs and thus inhibiting their own initiatives. Moreover, outside resources to scale up efforts in order to benefit the entire Cajamarquino watershed may not be available. To meet the lighthouse criteria of reliance on local resources for environmental restoration, and thereby ensure long-term sustainability, a means to increase farmersí own incomes had to be found.

2. Market linkages

Activity: conduct market studies to discover the economic potential of agroecologically-produced products in local, regional, national and international markets.

Without new and promising cash crops, small farmers remain dependent on selling their own labor, either locally or through seasonal migration, thereby reducing the time they have to devote to improving their farms. SANEís support for research into commercially promising crops therefore addressed an important prerequisite for enhancing the economic attractiveness of agroecology for small farmers.

During July and August 1995, CIED was able to conduct a much-needed market study on the regional and national demands for Cajamarcaís agroforestry products. While agroforestry had been promoted for its environmental benefits (soil and water conservation, improving soil fertility, use as animal fodder, and species diversification), this study enabled them to identify commercially viable tree species for construction, furniture, flooring, packing materials and fuel. Incorporating these species into the on-farm mix will provide small farmers with an additional source of income.

Another study identified 16 agricultural products with market potential (including industrial, food and aromatic/medicinal crops) and outlined the opportunities to create local industries to process the products. Potential buyers were identified in Cajamarca, Lima and even for international export provided product quality is assured.

3. Education and training:

  1. Redesign university curricula
  2. While the long-range goal of redesigning the curriculum of the University of Cajamarca to integrate agroecological sustainable development approaches is an ambitious undertaking, SANE was nevertheless able to take the first steps in that direction. Activities involved five schools at the National University and the Technological Institute. NGO and other staff members of the Round Table Process lectured students during their regular classes, in cooperation with more receptive faculty. More significantly, student field activities conducted in rural communities were coordinated and assisted by NGO staff. Through these activities, both students and faculty gained a better understanding of agroecological approaches, and the groundwork for future cooperation was laid.

  3. Sustainable rural development training for rural teachers
  4. Twenty-four rural teachers were trained over a nine-month period with classes, field trips and seminars. A wide range of technical, pedagogical and conceptual subjects was covered to deepen understanding and enhance practical application of agroecological principles. The teacher-leaders of this group have a far-reaching potential to disseminate an understanding of agroecology and sustainable development among rural children, provided they receive support in pedagogic material and, most crucially, a better income.

  5. Andean Rural School (Escuela Rural Andina-ERA)
  6. A lengthy and comprehensive study of ERA was carried out with resources provided by SANE. It presents a good overview of ERAís objectives, methodologies and practices and evaluation by 50 former students. ERAís work is significant in that it has provided a large group of farmer-leaders with basic knowledge of the principles and practice of agroecology and sustainable development. These farmer-leaders could form the basis for a major farmer-to-farmer extension effort coordinated either by farmer organizations or by NGOs.

  7. Long distance training in agroecology

In a period of 3 years, more than 200 people, including NGO technicians, University professors and students, and local government employees took a CLADES long-distance training course on agroecology. As part of the requirements to obtain an academic certificate, students had to conduct field projects, many of which were in SANEís target communities.

4. Public outreach

SANE resources made a small but important contribution to help launch a series of weekly radio and TV programs on local stations. EDAC-CIED, the coordinator of the Round Table Process and the mayor of Cajamarca are all eager to sensitize the wider urban population on an agroecological approach to development.

5. Institutional capacity building

SANE responded to requests to help enhance the administration and management capabilities of NGOs, community organizations and the provincial Round Table itself. Specific activities included:

  1. With SANE support, a team of professionals associated with the Roundtable completed an essential diagnosis of institutional capacity needs.
  2. Ninety farmer leaders and local authorities of six micro-watersheds received training in agroecology, organization and management. EDAC-CIED considers it as an important first step towards the creation of a farmer organization for the Cajamarquino watershed. At the conclusion of the training program, participants decided to convene a Forum of the Cajamarquino watershed, enabling farmers to discuss organizational issues and the need to ensure the inclusion of farmers in the provincial Round Table Process.
  3. Support for the Round Tableís working group on Agriculture and Natural Resources. This group coordinates the activities of some 25 institutions, including provincial representatives of national authorities, provincial administrations, NGOs, agro-industries and international initiatives such as CONDESAN (Council for Sustainable Development of the Andean Region), spearheaded by the International Potato Center (CIP). SANE supported presentations on agroecology to the working group and prompted a debate on policy priorities for sustainable agriculture development of the Cajamarquino watershed. Since this working group was charged with formulating, and now must oversee, the implementation of the natural resources component of the Cajamarca Plan, the participantsí deeper understanding of the potential of an agroecological approach issues enhances their ability to reach consensus. Bringing actual farmers into the planning process remains, however, a challenge for the group.

The Challenges Ahead

Although much has been accomplished in the initial three-year period, in order for CIED-EDAC and the roundtable to achieve wider impact, it will be necessary to:


  1. CIED-PNUD-CLADES. 1997. "Programa SANE: Faro Agroecologico Cajamarca. Informe Memoria." Unpublished report, Mesa de Concertacion de Recursos Naturales y Produccion Agraria. Cajamar-ca, Peru.
  2. Sanchez, Juan. 1994. "A Seed for Rural Development: the experience of EDAC-CIED in the Mashcon Watershed of Peru." Journal of Learning, n.1, May. Interchurch Fund for International Development. Toronto, Canada.
  3. Chavez, Luis Alberto R., ed. 1997. Plan de Desarrollo Sustentable para la Provincia de Cajamarca. Municipalidad Provincial de Cajamarca, Peru.