Farming despite frost
For centuries, indigenous rural communities in the southern Andes of Peru have faced considerable weather-related risks to their high-altitude cultivation of crops and livestock. Chief among these risks are frosts and droughts. Though less common, hail and snowfall are also a threat.
Andean farmers have traditionally relied on local ecological knowledge, elaborate production systems and social cooperation to adapt and respond to climate uncertainty and risks. For example, local farmers use an informal, pre-Columbian system for climate risk distribution called allapakuy (“help in harvesting”) whereby farmers who experience crop failure can offer their labour to friends who enjoyed a good crop in exchange for food.
Whilst such strategies have historically been highly resilient, the predicted effects, rates and variability of climate change may push them beyond their range of effectiveness. Trends and forecasts suggest that climate change will increase climate risks in the Andes, requiring indigenous people to modify their land use, production systems, knowledge base, coping mechanisms and even livelihoods.
Drawing on Swiss Re’s expertise in risk management, transfer mechanisms and insurance, this collaboration between the Swiss Re Foundation and Helvetas incorporated a number of innovative elements. The frost-focused part of the project began with capturing farmers’ existing practices, less to preserve traditional knowledge per se than to start a dialogue with agricultural extension agents and experts. A second innovative element is to learn about risk management practices that already exist in the region – including which of them work, where and why – before the stakeholders sit down to agree and plan a locally-customised mechanism or combination of mechanisms.
Special attention was paid to determining how permanent actors such as municipal governments, state programmes and local NGOs would continue providing technical assistance to rural households after the project’s completion. A knowledge management exercise at the end of the project brought together stakeholders in the targeted communities as well as the private and public sector to spell out the future role of each group in reducing agricultural risk and analysing barriers to effective implementation.
GOALS AND EXPECTED IMPACT
Targeting communities in Cusco department, Peru, this project reduced the vulnerability of rural highland households’ livelihoods to climate change impacts and increased the local population’s capacity to manage weather events that threaten their agricultural production.