Water Security II – Punas and Pastures

Lead Organization:

The Mountain Institute

Partner Organizations:

Comundad Campesina Catac, Comunidad Campesina Los Andes, UNASAM, CIAL Cordillera Blanca, CONDESAN, UNLAM

Community of Practice:







Agriculture in the Cordillera Blanca of Central Peru is heavily dependent on an extensive network of irrigation canals located between 2,000 and 4,000 m.a.s.l. that relies on water from glaciers. Andean communities are seeking to expand irrigation while glaciers are retreating due to global warming. The loss of glacial water in the Cordillera Blanca will negatively affect water availability in the highland areas but also in the coastal valleys where close to 135,000 hectares are currently irrigated with water from that watershed. Whereas in other parts of the Andes water that feeds rivers comes directly from glacial meltdown, in the Cordillera Blanca region water from glaciers, snow or rainfall is collected first in the puna bog soils. The puna ecosystem acts as a gigantic sponge that holds water and releases it slowly. Therefore, the gradual encroachment and destruction of the puna ecosystem represents a major threat to the viability of agriculture and food security in that vast area.

The project will gather evidence on the interconnected nature of the sustainable management of pastures, the water cycle, sustainable agriculture and the need to generate economic incentives that encourage and facilitate farmer households and communities to conserve those ecosystems. Research-based recommendations will be developed for the sustainable management of native pastures in the puna so they maintain their capacity to retain and regulate water. The project will raise public awareness at the local, regional and national levels on the strategic value of the puna ecosystem for the agricultural sustainability in the Andes.

Specifically, researchers from the La Molina Agriculture University in Lima are working with farmers to measure soil filtration and the impacts of different pasture planting techniques on soil water retention. There are also experiments to measure the flow of water through the puna and participatory action-research among farmers to measure the quality of water in various streams that provide water for the communities.

Grant Aims:

  • To improve practices and knowledge about i) the sustainable management of both pasture and cattle farming; ii) the relationships between the communities and agriculture, through exploratory studies carried out collaboratively with participating community organizations.
  • To empower local actors through the implementation of a participative monitoring system, to allow them to understand the changes in quality and quantity of the water that comes from the Wet Puna.
  • To increase the awareness among local population/authorities and universities of the importance of these ecosystems of the puna for climate sustainability

Outputs and Outcomes:

  • Developed training plan on participative research for external researchers, call it Participatory Orientated Research (POR)
  • Identified which native grass grew the best for re-vegetation of Puna and established that manure improves mortality significantly.
  • Demonstrated that llamas compact soil less than cows.
  • A participatory experiment was done in the humid highlands of Peru using infiltration holes and rows of 15 cm depth along with infiltration rods to measure the amount of soil erosion between the intervention and control. Results show that the control had losses the equivalent of 40 metric tons/ hectare/ year, and with the two interventions the loss was 20 tons/ hectare/ year.
  • In the Ancash region of northern Peru it is estimated that 93% of the natural pastures are under communal control (and that over 75% are deteriorated from overgrazing). These pasture are essential for carbon and water retention.  A  survey was done with two communities in Ancash, one within the National Park of Huascaran and one outside. There is one pastor designated for each manada (grouping of families/ grazing organization) at a time, this study covered 19 manadas between the 2 communities, the pastor from each community was surveyed. All pastors held the opinion that the quality of the pasture was declining as was the availability of water, but that it was much worse in the areas outside of a designated protected area than within. The protected area has much stricter regulations tied to fines for burning and overgrazing and controlled by an authority outside of the community. Communities that had the same regulations but were self-imposed were less successful. Interestingly, the communities within the protected areas were more dependent on income from livestock (not clear because it was more productive or because they had fewer sources of outside income.)
  • 20 experimental parcels were established in two sites (one with 22% soil humidity and one with 12%) in the highland grasslands in 2010 to measure the impact of different pasture management and conservation schemes on hydrological function, biotic integrity and ecological status using participatory research. For the “fallow” plots that were fenced off from grazing for 4 years, there were recuperation of dominant native grasses, most favored by animals, and reduction in overall diversity. In the control plots with grazing, there were not many differences in plant biomass, but when they were fenced off there was a large difference where the wet pasture has three times the production of biomass than the dry one (3500 kgMS/ha vs 1100), however this was not evidenced until year 4 (the first 3 years it stayed the same). In terms of soil cover in the fallow parcel in the wet puna it was 90% vs. 80% in the control and in the dry puna the fallow parcel had 78% vs 48% for control. In the wet pasture the soil humidity was 25% and 21% respectively for the fallow and the control and 15 and 8% for the dry puna.  The evidence indicates that dry puna is more vulnerable to potentially non-linear worsening of soil quality and that fencing activities should be prioritized in this region and encouraged in all ecosystems.
  • TMI and it’s University research partner, UNALM, received funding from the Ministry of Environment of Peru to provide the Ministry of Economy of Peru with a protocol that will facilitate investment of public funds in wetlands (like humid highlands) conservation.
  • Have circulated rangeland management strategies to neighboring communities as part of a escalation strategy, which has helped to move the scale of research from the research plot (2 ha) to communal scale (200 has over 3 sites belonging to 650 growers). Have had greater validation of technologies such as: grazing plan, fence installation and management, rehabilitation techniques for degraded rangeland. Have been able to use nascent typologies of producers and communities to better refine options for contexts. For example, fencing only works in communal grazing lands and not on private plots, where it creates distrust and suspicion around motives.
  • Have demonstrated sustained capacity building and use on a very small scale (10 people) of water monitoring techniques (measuring for heavy metal and other contaminants) for local water sources and irrigation channels in their community. Bioremediation operation is in place. Interestingly, it was much easier to sustain farmer interest in this research activity than the ones on soil, they hypothesize because it is a more linear problem with more immediate consequences.
  • Degraded rangeland was revegetated with 2 native to the Peruvian Puna grasses (Festuca humilor) and (Calamagrostis macrophylla) that sheep prefer to eat, so that amount of bare soil was reduced from 37% to 10% and the percent of these grasses was increased from 13% to 31%. It was found that with this increase in density of the 2 native species resulted in 28% more vegetative cover, improved filtration and soil moisture content. The effect was enhanced with the addition of organic matter (sheep urine and manure).
  • Production of a guidebook for the use of the fieldwork kit for water quality analysis by farmers. A water analysis of Rio Negro was conducted by farmers and results were shared with community: all main water sources of Rio negro are polluted, however, one source could be used for irrigation after remediation. A learning community of institutions and local communities and municipalities was established to better understand the Puna ecosystem as water cycle regulators. A paired catchment characterization study of the 2 catchments was implemented. Identified which native grass grew the best for re-vegetation and established that manure improves mortality significantly. Llamas compact soil less than cows.
  • In both health and degraded pastures near Huaraz, Peru, the impact of llama and cow grazing was measured on soil infiltration rate and soil moisture. In both sites soil compaction was higher with cows, there was no difference in infiltration rate. Soil moisture was higher with llamas, a result attributed to the higher amount of residual biomass that that llamas left after grazing compared to cattle.