Green Ponchos and Inca Gold: Natural Links to the Past in
by Ross Mitchell
Cajamarca ... land
of past glories and defeats, the ghosts of Atahualpa and Pizarro
hanging in the mist, a temperate, fertile valley surrounded
by barren hills that still resonate with the sound of ancient
flutes (quenas and zampoČas) and drums.
Traditional long horns, much like those found in the Swiss
Alps, measure three meters long and emit a blast that can be
heard for miles.
The pleasant colonial city of Cajamarca,
population of about 125,000, is nestled in the northern Peruvian
Andes. Its tranquil, green valley is dotted with eucalyptus
groves and grazing cattle. Cajamarca is renowned for its excellent
cheeses and other dairy products. Residents are determined to
modernize their city, but not at the expense of their strong
cultural heritage or colonial architecture.
with their wide-brimmed palma sombreros (hat palm) sell their
wares in street markets alongside city dweller entrepreneurs.
Mules and cows pulled by hurrying owners and noisy "micros"
(small buses) frequent its narrow, colonial streets.
I first came to Cajamarca in 1988, traveling with a friend
after a great seafood lunch of ceviche (sea bass marinated in
lime juice and chiles) in the coastal city of Trujillo. We climbed
past verdant green rice fields and roadside mango trees, up
to the Jequetepeque Valley. We journeyed to the pre-Incan site
of Cumbemayo at 3,600 metres in the Peruvian altiplano, and
at about midnight, in the pouring rain of the Andean wet season,
we dropped down into the ancient city of Cajamarca at 2,750
Trees and Soil
I spent the next two years of my life in Cajamarca, an experience
that would inevitably change my outlook on forestry and tourism.
It was the former of which brought me here in the first place.
But as the years passed, I found myself returning time and time
again to this age-old place that shares some similarities to Cuzco
for its post-colonial architecture and countryside scenery.
Cajamarca has yet to
experience the kind of explosive tourism growth that Cuzco has
seen in recent decades. Perhaps that is the way most Cajamarquinos
would prefer it. But changes are in the wind, and environmental
restoration is a key part of the solution.
My job as forestry advisor for CUSO
and the National
University of Cajamarca seemed simple enough -- research
and re-introduce native tree species such as quishar, queČal,
aliso, capuli, and nogal. CUSO is a Canadian non-profit agency
that operates in similar fashion to the United States Peace
Corps, sending its cooperants on two-year assignments to developing
nations. Yet my job was not a simple task. Many rural communities
of the Cajamarca region were long accustomed to planting exotic
tree species such as eucalyptus, radiata pine, and cypress --
fast-growing species much favored for firewood and building
needs. Eucalyptus trees in particular often worsen the poor
soil conditions due to their insatiable demands for nutrients
and water. It would take some convincing to bring back native
trees on the mainly barren landscape.
The soils of Cajamarca have been badly eroded over the centuries
long before "exotics" were planted. The fragile hillsides surrounding
Cajamarca, once covered with native forests and rich topsoil,
formed part of an important watershed. But cattle farmers seeking
to expand their pastures removed much of the vegetative cover.
With this overuse and the annual heavy rainfall from November
to April, most of the topsoil washed away. Today, the eroded
hillsides around Cajamarca are largely scrub and bedrock in
which huge logos of schools and soccer teams have been etched.
In a concerted effort to halt and reverse the massive soil
degradation, reforestation projects started in Porcçn and other
highland areas (called the jalca) in the 1960s and 70s. It was
my former boss and local ecologist Pablo Sđnchez Zevallos who
is noted for his metaphorical use of laying a "poncho verde"
(green cape) over the Andean landscape. In other words, returning
vegetative cover to the exposed, clay soils.
Digging infiltration canals, constructing terraces, and planting
various tree species have had notable results in several areas.
One such success story is the municipality of La EncaČada, 40
kilometers from Cajamarca. La
EncaČada has become both a laboratory and a model for integrated
rural development. With assistance from the government of Canada,
the Association for Rural Development of Cajamarca (ASPADERUC),
and Peru's soil and water conservation service (PRONAMACHCS),
local farmers built hundreds of hectares of slow-formation terraces.
These reduce erosion and help the soil retain badly needed moisture.
Seed production centers to improve crop quality and tree nurseries
have been established. Terracing and "greening" eroded slopes
can make more food and clean water available to local farmers.
Integrated land-use planning, reforesting degraded areas,
enhancing soil and water management, and creating non-farm employment
are all having positive effects. Still, the battle to stabilize
and reforest the land is far from over. High population density,
soil erosion, limited infrastructure, small farm size, and poor
soil fertility have resulted in a generally impoverished rural
sector. Much more needs to be done to reduce pressure on fragile
Cajamarcan soils, restore ecological health, and reverse the
Gold in the Hills
It is not just planting trees, raising cattle, and making cheese
that occupy many rural people of Cajamarca. In recent years, gold
has come to the forefront again of Cajamarca's economy. Even though
most Inca gold was melted into ingots and sent to Spain over several
decades, significant deposits of oro still remain. El Dorado is
no myth -- Peru is the eighth largest gold producer in the world
and largest in South America.
The nearby region of Yanacocha
has been converted into an industrial gold mine that has brought
in workers from across the nation and other countries. The combined
potential output of the Pierina mines in the north and Yanacocha
make up 60% of Peruvian gold production. Yanacocha is one of
the largest heap leachable gold mines in the world with production
costs of $88 per ounce (year 2000 estimate) and reserves in
excess of 35 million ounces of gold. In its first week of operation,
Yanacocha yielded over a ton of gold -- more than the entire
ransom paid for the last Inca ruler Atahualpa.
Not that this mining activity has gone unnoticed. Although
Peru's President Alejandro Toledo has introduced new legislation
that "obliges [mining] companies not just to think of economic
success but also of the well-being of all and achieving harmony
with the community and the environment," whether this harmonious
relationship can be achieved is another story. According to
IDRC report, "the gold boom has brought foreign investment
and jobs, but also its own set of problems including inflation,
uncontrolled urban expansion caused by a flood of job-seekers,
environmental contamination, and related health problems."
In a concerted effort to alleviate some of these social and
environmental problems related to mining and other natural resource-based
industrial activities, Cajamarca has been experimenting with
new forms of democratic participation. In 1992, the municipality
of Cajamarca launched a formal mechanism for inter-institutional
coordination of resource allocation and use -- the key instrument
is "mesas de concertaciçn" (tables of discussion and negotiation).
Different levels of government, district mayors, non-governmental
organizations, the local mining company, and other interested
parties are brought together to discuss development priorities
and negotiate a sustainable development plan.
This has not been an easy process. A big challenge is to ensure
that these multi-party negotiations are truly transparent, democratic,
and representative. The process is being monitored so that those
most directly affected by natural resource decisions -- indigenous
peoples, the rural poor, and women -- have a fair and equitable
stake at the table.
Ross Mitchell is an Environmental Sociologist with Golder
Associates Ltd. He holds a Ph.D. in Rural Sociology and
a B.Sc. in Forestry from the University
of Alberta, Canada, and a M.Sc. in Rural Planning and Development
(University of Guelph). He may be reached by email.
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