Fighting Drought With Traditional Knowledge in Peru

Editor's note: In celebration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, today we’re bringing you a great example of one of the many contributions indigenous peoples are making to address global problems like climate change.

If you’ve turned on a television or opened a newspaper in recent weeks, you have been confronted with stories and images of the ongoing drought gripping much of the United States. However, turn your glance further south — to the land from which several globally important foods originate (from the humble potato to the superfood quinoa) — and you will find places high in the Andean mountains of Peru that have successfully survived cyclical drought conditions for thousands of years.

Faced with climate change and dry season conditions that linger for over a month longer than they used to, indigenous peoples in Peru’s Altiplano region are turning their back on the green revolution that began in the 1960s with the introduction of heavy pesticides, monocultures of a single species, and a dependence on purchased seeds. Instead, they are reviving and rediscovering traditional agricultural knowledge that served their Incan ancestors.

One of the agronomists leading this movement, Zenon Gomel Apaza, is one of CI’s 2012 Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Conservation fellows. This fellowship was created, in partnership with the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, to provide opportunities for indigenous leaders to demonstrate the contribution of traditional knowledge in adapting to climate change and maintaining healthy ecosystem. These leaders are also showing how that knowledge can be integrated with science and new technologies to influence policy and action.


Selected for his grassroots approaches to encouraging crop diversity, increasing food security and adapting to climate change, Gomel Apaza has a wealth of knowledge and experience that could serve farmers currently suffering across most of the American Midwest.

By harvesting water in shallow, man- made basins and diverting water from small springs, these farmers are able to maintain a constant supply of water during the dry season, while recharging underground aquifers at the same time. This mutual respect for Mother Nature — receiving water while at the same time returning it to the earth — is an integral part of their system, and something that we could all benefit from.

Adrienne McKeehan is the program manager of CI’s Social Policy and Practice team.