Piura: so dry you can't imagine!
Piura is in the middle of one of the driest areas in the World.Average rains are lower than 50 mm/year, but it would be easier to say there's no rain at all, other than the years 'El Niño' appears. In this flat sandy area, irrigated agriculture is practised since the beginning of the XIX century, that is 200 hundreds years ago. Farmers are able to handle water across the sands, they know how to dig channels, they know how to choose the proper route and desert has been transformed in a greeny area using the waters of rio Chira and rio San Lorenzo, which are flowing down from the Andes. Both rivers, as well as rio Piura, never reach the sea: they are lost in the sands between Piura and Paita - the harbour on the Pacific Ocean shore. In the picture you may see a traditional channel, hand dug in the sands.
Once in seven year, as an...
Once in seven year, as an average, rains appear, and they are devastating. They inundate the flat land, and drainage is not easy at all given the low gradient between Piura and the sea. "El Niño" is the name which is commonly given to this phenomena. The consequences of "El Niño" are tremendous all over the planet, but it begins one year before along the coast of Piura and Tumbes with very basic signs, any fisherman is able to detect them well in advance. Lobsters follow the warm waters, when they can be caught in unusual points, too much South, for example, that means the cold Humboldt stream running Northbound along the Peruvian coast and the warm Galapagos equatorial stream flowing Southbound along the coast of Ecuador are converging in an unusual place. The enormous masses of cold waters reaching the warm climate equatorial zone bring too much humidity, they evaporate and give way to a series of meteorological reactions resulting in heavy rains in Northern Peru around Christmas time (that is where the "El Niño" name come from, as "Niño" stays for the baby Jesus). After this first phenomenon, everybody knows terrible climatic consequences are to be expected all over our planet in the coming year. So: ask the fishermen where they found the lobsters and you'll be able to foresee the coming "Niño".
In the fields, the most visible effect of the rainy periods may be noticed by the existing trees. As nobody is taking into consideration the fact of transplanting or afforestating the area (well, one of our project tried to do this, but it was not really a success), the only existing trees grow simultaneously: you can recognize trees which are 7 years old, trees around 14 or 20 or 25 years old. The picture show one of this group of trees: most of them are algarrobo (carrube tree). Algarrobo pods are a staple for goats, a luxury fodder for pigs and they are also used to produce a honey-like syrup, delicious and very energetic.
Within the Comunidad...
Within the Comunidad Campesina, comuneros are organized in co-operatives and UCP (Unidades Comunales de Produccion). While the co-operatives had already received their lands since the initial stages of the irrigation programme, the UCP were commonly entitled to remoter areas, far from the secondary distributing channels. They had to find funds and organise their own working power to dig the channels in the cheapest way. Hundreds of farmers organised themselves in working shifts to ensure the manual work required for the extension of the water distribution system. the scarce funds were devoted to machine landfilling of deeper areas, buying the pumps, protecting with cement the key nodes of the distributing network. This is a case in which the organisational skills of the Comunidad and its leaders are peculiarly evident.
Sunglasses and shorts! :)
Bring sunglasses and shorts! The weather here is wonderful throughout the year, with warm weather and sun. Mosquitos are rarely a nuisance, so you needn´t really worry about bringing repellent. Fly spray would be a better purchase, as some restaurants are have flies plaguing the tables. Sunscreen is important, as the ultraviolete index can go high. Bring condoms and enthusiasm; there are _so_ many girls in tight pants here (with much to fill them)! shorts, tshirts, jacket, pants toilet paper, Pepto Bismo
The second problem was the...
The second problem was the identification of alternative crops and the way they can be managed is not easy at all. Cotton martket is totally controlled by foreign interest and a couple of local oligopolists, so that a peasant household could never rely for their survival on the price of cotton. Market (very far from being a free market), transport (expensive and limited), water-management (the price of energy for pumping was no more a politically controlled item), growing techniques (there was no agricultural extension system available for the common farmers) made the choice very diffficult. More than this, one must also take into consideration social pressures: cotton was very important for local economy and any area not dedicated to it was noticed as an improductive
one; comunidades campesinas, as they were trying to organize internal services for agricultural extension and the education of farmers, were perceived as terrorist organisations supporting Sendero Luminoso actions. All the same, some examples of alternative management have been implemented thanks to the positive interaction of international NGO's co-operation and local farmers organisations.