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Yachaykusun: Lessons on climate change from the Andes

This online book ​details the innovative responses of rural populations to climate change in the Andean highlands, aided by the implementation of resilience building practices by PACC Peru.
Dominick Ciccarelli
An overview of PACC Peru and the resilience building activities adopted (also in Spanish and German – see Further Resources)


Perú, a mega diverse country in terms of climate —with 27 of the world’s 32 climates— is one of the countries that is most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The temperature is expected to rise 1,6 °C degrees in the Andean highlands by 2030. Rains will occur out of season and will be heavier and more concentrated. Within eleven years, glaciers below 5.000 meters might have completely disappeared. And in another 40 years, it is estimated that communities here will have only 60% of the water that they have today.

“Yachaykusun: Lessons on climate change from the Andes”* shares the experiences generated through the implementation of practices that strengthen resilience under conditions of a changing climate. The main players in this story are rural peasant families and communities that live in poverty in the watersheds of Huacrahuacho (Cusco region) and Mollebamba (Apurimac region) in the Andean highlands.

The Climate Change Adaptation Program – PACC Peru, a bilateral cooperation initiative between the Ministry of the Environment (MINAM) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), supported these actions in its first phase (2009-2013), which was based on two thematic axes. The first axis corresponds to practices to manage the ecosystem and natural resources to improve water yields and maintain livelihoods. The second axis corresponds to practices that focus on the families’ well being and on protecting the most vulnerable population and children in particular.

Through stories, photographs and technical files this publication provides a source of specific information about concrete actions that should be fostered to strengthen the resilience and adaptive capacity of rural families and communities that live in the ecosystems of the Andean highlands. It is hoped that this publication motivates and inspires others to replicate these practices, beginning with actions to promote initiatives at the public entity, private and civil society levels.

*Download the full publication from the right-hand column (english version) or from Further Resources below (spanish version) to read in detail about the implementation and impacts of the community-led resilience-building practices aided by PACC. The contents of the book, approach and methods, and key messages are provided in brief below.

In the publication

  • Introduction: If the climate goes crazy, can we adapt ourselves?
  • Stories from PACC:
    • The man who looks at the sky [introducing local climate monitoring]
    • Qochas [lakes for water storage]
    • Natural pastures
    • When vegetables are welcome
    • Food Security
    • Some grand houses
    • Education
  • Technical files
    • Qocha, system to store surface and sub-surface water
    • Rotational grazing and temporary closure of grazing areas
    • Agroforestry
    • Organic fertilizers
    • Local climate monitoring
    • Promoting early childhood development
    • Vegetable production in homestead gardens
    • Raising small animals
    • Healthy homes
    • Farmer’s competition
    • Training program on climate change for men and women community leaders
    • Competition between education institutions
  • If the clouds
  • Interview: “Adaptation requires organized action between society and the State”
<strong>From page 38 of the book – To be the best:</strong>Bernabé, Marcelina and their grandson, Brian, stand happily next to their prize-winning qocha. The PACC programme ran competitions for schools, farmers and on qocha development to encourage communities to uptake resilient practices – read the full text to find out more on how this was carried out so sucessfully.

Approach and methods (in brief)


Two zones of the southern Andes of Peru were chosen to participate in the PACC program: the watersheds of the Mollebamba river, in Apurimac, and of the Huacrahuacho river, in Cusco. The selection was made with regional authorities, and was neither quick nor simple.

The Mollebamba watershed is home to five peasant communities of the district of Juan Espinoza Medrano. The larger part of its territory is in the high zone, above 4.000 meters. The low area, which is between 2.950 and 3.500 meters, covers barely 3.6% of the territory but is home to the majority of the population, which is dispersed across four of the five communities.

The Huacrahuacho watershed covers a territory that is half the size of Mollebamba but nonetheless has more communities: five correspond to the district of Checca and eleven to Kunturkanki. Its territory is at a higher altitude: between 3.750 and 4.700 meters.

The main players in the program are the eight thousand residents of the watersheds.

PACC programme sites, from page 16|17 of the publication


Work began with trying to answer some basic questions:

  1. Which conditions will the inhabitants need to adapt to and what needs to be adjusted?
  2. Which vulnerabilities do they have given these changes and how can they be reduced?
  3. Which actions can help rural populations adapt?
  4. Which initiatives, which are already underway, can serve as a solid base for adaptation to climate change?

To improve adaptation, this program has implemented two blocks of measures in collaboration with the community members. The first, the “green axis”, has to do with improving natural resources. Water availability during periods when it is most needed was increased through:

  • Building simple qochas or lakes to recharge the aquifers (sowing) and store the water (harvesting).
  • Managing natural pastures with enclosures, in order to restore soil and vegetation cover and thereby increase the capacity of the land to absorb, infiltrate and recharge water. To strengthen this function, degraded areas were afforested with native trees such as qolle, qishuar, queñua and chachacoma, and pine.

The program also encouraged the use of sprinkler irrigation, the improvement of agricultural production on family lots with agroforestry practices —the combination of trees and crops—; the production of organic fertilizer; and the cultivation of fodder grasses, to improve cattle production and compensate for a lack of fodder during the dry season.

The second group of measures, related to “family well being”, are directed, for example, at young children, who are the most vulnerable to climate change. In this context, the program promoted early stimulation of children who are between zero and five years of age; encouraged breastfeeding; and the monitoring of the growth and development of the youngest members of the community.

The program also sought to strengthen family health through nutritious diets, and promoted food security by installing homestead gardens to grow vegetables and by encouraging families to raise small animals, such as guinea pigs. Efforts have also been made to convert old, one-room dwellings into larger, more organized and healthy homes.

“Housing is a good starting point from which people can adapt to climate change… They often say: ‘If I changed this, I can change other things.” …When we started, there was no recipe for ‘this is how we are going to adapt to climate change ́. We have learned to do it with the support of many actors. It is a social construct.”

Victor Bustinza,deputy coordinator of PACC

Lessons Learnt (in brief)

Water is and will be a key factor in adaptation to climate change. This is even more so in regions such as Apurimac and Cusco, which will suffer from water shortages in the near future.

  • The creation of simple reservoirs, which requires little investment in material and manual labor, allows families and communities to store water and recharge the aquifers, thereby attenuating the effects of future droughts.
  • Overgrazing of natural pastures coupled with intense rains can erode and degrade the soil, resulting in reduced water infiltration into aquifers. One effective solution is to temporarily close off community lands to recover grass, seeds and soil to increase water capture.
  • The key to success in recovering natural pastures is to develop community agreements about the maximum number of animals allowed per family and respect for protected areas.
Food security —stable production and access to food, and knowing how to use it— is a fragile concept if the climate takes a wrong turn. Some measures can guarantee foodsecurity:
  • Cultivating vegetables, even at very high altitudes, and promoting nutritional education, particularly for young children.
  • Simple closed vegetable gardens with plastic roofs ensure that vegetables can grow at the highest altitudes. These greenhouses take advantage of solar radiation to create a greenhouse effect under the roof and elevate the temperature, reducing vulnerability to extreme climatic events that limit crop production in the open air.
  • Organic vegetable gardens coupled with agroforestry and raising guinea pigs provides balanced nutrition for familes and an increased and more resilient (through increased diversity) means of income.
  • ‘Early stimulation centers’ that monitor the height and weight of children under the age of five, encourage breastfeeding and promote better diets in the home reduce the instance of chronic childhood malnutrition.
Improved living – overcrowding and unsanitary conditions makes communities vulnerable to climate and health problems.
  • improved stoves and adding more, larger and better rooms to homes improves air quality and respiratory health.
  • Schools can play a central role in disseminating environmental messages. Adaptation competitions held among education institutions generated exemplary cases in sustainable living – in the school of Vito, 48 students and 5 teachers grew vegetables in a vegetable garden, recycled waste, and disseminated their environmental message throughout the community through an on-site radio station.
From page 78 of the report. Using greenhouses to grow vegetables is helping to improve nutrition and livelihoods in the Andean highlands communities. Read the full text to find out more.

The Climate Change Adaptation Program -PACC Perú was created to address the problem of climate change in the Andes. Its objective is to increase the capacity of vulnerable rural populations in the Andean highlands of Apurimac and Cusco to adapt to the main challenges of climate change and to reduce the impacts on their livelihoods, through the active action of public and private actors.

PACC is a bilateral cooperation initiative between the Ministry of the Environment– MINAM and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation – SDC. Its strategic partners are the regional governments of Apurimac and Cusco; the universities San Antonio Abad in Cusco and Micaela Bastidas in Abancay; and FONCODES. PACC is facilitated by a consortium consisting of HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation, Libélula and PREDES; and receives advisory services from a consortium of Swiss scienti‹c entities, led by the University of Zurich.

One of the main lines of action of the ‹first phase (February 2009 – April 2013) entailed promoting rural adaptive practices at the family and community level. e pilot focused on two watersheds in Cusco and Apurimac, where 1758 peasant families of 21 communities were active participants. e program’s second phase (May 2013 – December 2016) seeks, among other actions, to contribute to expanding the practices that boost the resilience and adaptive capacities of the peasant families in the Andean highlands. The measures promoted in the first phase of the program were implemented through peasant farmer competitions organized jointly with the civil association Pachamama Raymi.

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