Civil Society, Climate Change, Development & Aid, Environment, Food and Agriculture, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Tierramerica

PERU: Rural Wisdom Against Climate Change

Milagros Salazar* - Tierramérica

LIMA, Jan 21 2010 (IPS) - “The toads have disappeared from the countryside because of climate change, and now there is nothing to control the insects. Now we have to use chemicals to fight pests, and that is killing the soil,” says worried Peruvian farmer Julián Pilco.

Cuzco farmer Teresa Rocca's maize crop was damaged by unusual hailstorms. Credit: Yanina Patricio/ Oxfam International

Cuzco farmer Teresa Rocca's maize crop was damaged by unusual hailstorms. Credit: Yanina Patricio/ Oxfam International

For civil society organisations, the impacts of global warming reported by Pilco and other residents of Peru’s rural areas should be incorporated into the national climate watch system. The data collected by the science stations is not enough, they say.

Recording the information and observations from rural communities is necessary for fighting this serious problem that all humanity faces, according to the Citizens Movement Against Climate Change (MOCICC for its Spanish initials), made up of 15 civil society groups.

The movement’s platform is laid out in a document it sent to the Environment Ministry. It promotes a “social system of climate and biological records at the local level,” in order to collect information from the affected farmers as they talk about their traditional knowledge of climate variability and the modification of biological indicators or other signs from nature.

Today those signs, which in the past allowed locals to predict frosts, rains or other complex weather events, have been blurred by global warming trends.

The excessive emission of greenhouse-effect gases, with the majority coming from the industrialised countries, has an increasingly strong impact on the lives of millions of poor people and rural residents around the world.

The leading emitter of greenhouse gases is the United States, with 20.6 percent of the global total, while Peru emits just 0.4 percent, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

But Peru is one of the most vulnerable countries when it comes to the effects of climate change.

It has already lost 80,000 hectares of farmland for cultivating potatoes, and its glaciers have shrunk 22 percent – the equivalent of Lima’s freshwater consumption over 10 years. Pests and diseases have appeared in new areas, while in the Peruvian Amazon there are more and more floods, droughts and hailstorms.

“The rains that used to come in September now arrive in January of the following year. The sun scorches and now even we farmers have to use sunblock,” Pilco, a farmer in the central Andean region of Cuzco, told Tierramérica.

“There is no longer any snow on Apu Ausangate mountain; there is no more water in the springs,” said Cayetano Huanta, a farmer from the same region.

In the coastal city of Chimbote, Yolanda Lara reports that “the sea is overflowing and the foundations of the houses have been weakened.”

In the Amazonian region of San Martín, farmer Misael Salas Amasifuén reports a recent hailstorm in his community: “That had never happened before.”

The testimonies of those affected continue to multiply. From August to October, MOCICC promoted nine public hearings to shed light on the rural areas and to show that climate change is not a problem of the future – it’s already here.

The initiative for a citizen-based system of reporting is just one of the movement’s contributions to the National Strategy Against Climate Change, drawn up in 2003 but only 13 percent implemented, according to the Environment Ministry itself.

“The government should take into account those testimonies in order to prioritise the (climate change) adaptation projects in the most affected areas. Furthermore, it should revalue the ancestral knowledge of these communities to confront climate change more effectively,” MOCICC coordinator Rocío Valdeavellano told Tierramérica.

The National Climate Observation System already exists, but it is based primarily on scientific data. The network is run by Peru’s national weather service and has 700 stations in operation, of which just 100 to 140 have accumulated the minimum of 40 years to ensure scientific rigor, says a MOCICC document.

The rest of the weather stations have data from 20 to 25 years, or have incomplete data. Another problem is that they are not located in the jungle regions or in the high Andes above 3,500 metres above sea level.

Jorge Álvarez, coordinator of the 2nd National Climate Change Report, told Tierramérica that there is a proposal for improving the system, but it would take a big input of human and financial resources to implement.

Álvarez also said that since 2003 an integrated local assessment methodology has been used in order to focus on the collection of information about the impacts of climate change on certain watersheds, which are seen as bio-indicators of the communities.

According to the activist, the method also takes into consideration future vulnerability to climate change, among other criteria, and is utilised for proposing adaptation measures. But he recognised that it has only been implemented in four of Peru’s 100 watersheds: in the northwestern Piura, in the central Mantaro, in Cuzco’s Altomayo, and the Santa in the west. No such local assessments have been made in the southern sierra or in the Amazon.

“It has given rise to a participatory process, from below, and one can see the particularities of each zone, because due to Peru’s megadiversity, we can’t apply the same formula to the whole country,” said Álvarez, who noted that the ministry is finishing a vulnerability map and a national adaptation plan should be complete in February.

The Environment Ministry has calculated that 190 to 454 million dollars a year are needed until 2030 for the climate change adaptation measures. However, it is not yet clear which projects will be implemented or in which vulnerable areas.

“It is essential that the authorities bring together the adaptation initiatives already begun by some communities and non-governmental organisations in order to form part of the national public policy and so they’re not just pilot programmes,” said Valdeavellano.

Climate expert Juan Torres warned that any adaptation strategy must consider local systems in order to link them to national and global plans. Only in this way “will we be able to confront the uncertain scenario we are living today,” he said.

(*This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.)

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