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Improvement of vegas and bofedales through traditional Aymara practices in the highlands of northern Chile

Multiple Authors


Project presentation on the TV programme “Panorama Chile”, VTR, Fundación Viva Chile

In the highlands of Tarapacá, Chile, traditional practices, mainly from the Aymara culture, are revalued, and practices are applied to improve water distribution and soil moistening in the wetlands (bofedales).

In meetings, assemblies and field workshops, patches of wetlands are identified in the process of degradation, be it due to soil erosion, diversion of the water that feeds them, or overgrazing. Ideas are exchanged on possible solutions and the management of wetlands is promoted with ancestral practices and a community and family approach, encouraging young people to participate in evaluations, decision making and field work. The program integrates local training and joint monitoring of wetland variables into management (flows, remote sensing green indices, green coverage). The program works together with academic and governmental institutions with technical-scientific profiles, complementing visions, generating agreements and creating synergy in actions.


  • Chile
Implementation sites:
  • Single country
  • Single location
Mountain region:
  • High Andes, Dry Puna
  • 1st Region of Tarapacá
Site locations:
  • Communes of Colchane and Pica

Solution scale:
  • Local
Ecosystem type(s):
  • High Alpine
Solution type(s):
  • Land use practice
  • Monitoring
  • Research
  • Technological development
  • Agriculture
  • Ecosystems Biodiversity
  • Water
Climate impact(s) addressed:
  • Altered growing seasons
  • Drought
  • Other (Specify)
Impact time-scales:
  • Rapid Onset
  • Social benefits (e.g. poverty reduction, inclusiveness and equity, health and well-being)
  • Climate risk reduction (e.g. reduced risk from floods)
  • Environmental benefits (e.g. biodiversity preservation, water security, food security)
  • Technical benefits (e.g. innovative use of geographic information systems)
Implementation timeline:
  • 2013 - 2021
Sendai targets:

    Solution details

    Main beneficiaries & outcomes

    The program is implemented in 45 wetland sectors (bofedales) where members of 13 indigenous Aymara communities work. These sectors are used by about 35 livestock families who are considered direct beneficiaries of the program, reaching about 100 middle-aged and elderly people. The number of indirect beneficiaries can double and is made up of authorities and other members of indigenous communities and organizations; neighbors who have participated in the meetings and workshops, authorities and technicians from local and national public institutions (agreement with the Institute for Agricultural Development – INDAP – and interaction with local technicians, agreements with the National Forestry Corporation – CONAF -, etc.).

    Planning and implementation

    The NGO “Corporación de Estudios y Desarrollo Norte Grande” (CNG) implements the program directly, managing resources and providing technical and territorial capacities. The alliance between AVINA and Coca Cola foundations provides financing for the program. Informative workshops were organized with the communities to present the program and its goals. Given the interest of potential participants, the sectors of main interest were inspected to be recovered by the ranchers. The solutions to apply to each case were discussed and community work was promoted in field workshops. The people in charge of the sector and his family have the last word on the decisions that are made regarding the operations and actions. On certain local festivities, the program provides logistics, tools and safety elements to integrate young people and people who travel from urban centers to participate in community work commanded by the heads of families in charge of the sector. Remote sensing monitoring plans were designed to verify the effects of wetland management.


    The average annual cost of the program is about US $ 97,000. Coca Cola Foundation, through the + Water initiative of the AVINA-Coca Cola alliance, provides 85% of the annual financing (subsidy). CNG co-finances the program through the contribution of its facilities, mobility, personnel, and financial resources from other related projects (15%).


    The opportunity to test management practices with the application of revalued traditional techniques implies a strengthening of the community’s capacities to the accelerated changes of the climate. One of the key aspects is the installation of the “wetlands” theme in society, the importance of conserving them, their relationship with the water of the headwaters of the basins and the productive activities that sustain the rich Aymara culture of the Chilean highlands.

    Performance evaluation

    The main impact variable of the program is the volume of water that is estimated to be available in the basin as a result of the improvement in the state of the wetlands under management (to offset the company’s water footprint). This is based on the fact that a wetland in poor condition requires twice the flow of a wetland in good condition. This theoretical equation is taken and adapted from studies and research on the water requirements of wetlands in the highlands of Chile. These criteria are reviewed and evaluated by the LimnoTech consultancy (Atlanta, USA) that advises Coca Cola.

    Besides, the Corporación de Estudios Norte Grande – an organization with special socio-political and socio-environmental interest -, focuses on the number of Aymara farmers and communities benefited as an indicator of success. Based on the fact that improvements in wetland management has a direct impact on pasture productivity for livestock, the effects of management are monitored by calculating green indices (NDVI) in managed sectors and control sites. The first data show the recovery of the vegetation of the plain and its functionality.

    Long term project sustainability and maintenance

    The program has been in operation for eight consecutive years. Upon completion, indigenous communities and livestock producers, with the support of local government institutions, such as INDAP and community committees, should take the lead in the actions developed in the program.

    At another level of the State, the governmental areas related to climate change and vegetation formations in Chile have become aware of the program and, above all, of the strategic importance of high altitude wetlands in the northern deserts of the country, both for the local population but also for those located in lower areas such as the pampas and the coastal edges, whose water supply depends absolutely on the water and hydro-geological processes of the high Andes.

    Capacities for design and implementation


    Andean communities have been managing livestock for more than two millennia, having suffered periods of great droughts and water shortages. In this framework, the program revalues the traditional practices obtained from empirical knowledge and knowledge that is passed from generation to generation. However, the current rates of climate change demand the incorporation of technical-scientific knowledge about the hydrological functioning of the system. So the strategy in this case has been to combine traditional knowledge with scientific-technical knowledge, managing to broaden the views and apply proven management practices, but this time improving the possibilities of innovative trials. This has also made it possible to adapt the monitoring and specify the selection of the environmental response variables, both to management and to unwanted impacts.


    Remote sensing and geographical information systems are valuable tools to support the planning and monitoring of wetlands management. In this project we continue using remote sensing techniques for monitoring wetland (bofedales) habitat conditions and the productivity of vegetation (NDVI). Remote sensing monitoring has proved to be a good tool to analyze the evolution of vegetative vigor (NDVI) and vegetation water content (NDWI) in the bofedales of the Altiplano.


    Multi-partner collaboration was a key factor for the success of this program. The strategic alliance between AVINA and Coca Cola foundations, and with “Corporación de Estudios y Desarrollo Norte Grande” (CNG) – the local partner implementing the project on the field – provide the needed institutional set up, together with a strong alliance with the local communities.


    A deep comprehension of the social context and the local needs was very important in the project planning and set up. Local communities are a key component of the project. They engaged in co-development and in the implementation of the solution since the beginning.

    Outlook & Scalability

    Barriers and adverse effects

    The only negative impact that has occurred throughout the program has been the alleged boundary conflicts, either between neighboring sectors of cattle ranchers in the same community, as well as between members from different communities. On the ground there was no impact on flows or any other key factor; only that the application of a program and the intense field work in a sector or property, has generally drawn attention to neighbors. Each case has been resolved when each party understands the program and observes that there is no negative impact on resources, and even some skeptical neighbors finally joined the program.

    On two occasions, the program had to stop supporting livestock families in the territories because indigenous community leaders opposed its implementation. In all these cases, the livestock families of the territories lamented the lack of support from the community authorities, to which they indicated that they were unaware of the realities of the countryside because they resided in urban centers and did not generate alternatives for technical support and resources.

    Transformation and future outlook

    The solution promoted by the project will help the local communities and particularly the small production systems to be more resilient to future climate change, by promoting a more efficient use of water resources and by maintaining healthier wetland ecosystems.

    Potential for upscaling and replication

    The experiences developed in this program towards the improvement of the wetlands of the Tarapacá plateau have influenced the evaluation of these practices by the national extension and technological agencies. The program and its agreement with INDAP refloated the subsidies for soil improvement (SIRDSS) that had been set aside by the authorities due to difficulties in their implementation and effective monitoring. The dissemination of the program and the participation in national meetings (Climate Change Committee) and international events (COP25) made it possible for the authorities to prioritize the conservation of High Andean wetlands as key ecosystems in the headwaters of basins and related to water ecosystem services.

    These actions were expanded to the XV region of Arica and Parinacota to the north, through an FAO project that contemplates including these socio-environmental, cultural and productive systems as sites of global agri-food importance (network of GIAHS sites) and national (SIPAN) .

    One of the challenges of the program and its actions is to scale up, which requires medium-term support and good logistical capacity to maintain active contact with the communities, their representatives and the daily territorial realities.


    Contacts of key institutional partners involved with the solution planning and implementation

    Jorge Gonnet ([email protected])

    Key references/links

    Gonnet, J. M., López, C., Aranibar, D. E., & Lictevout, E. (2016). Manual introductorio al manejo de vegas y bofedales mediante prácticas tradicionales de culturas andinas en el norte de Chile. Chile: Corporación de Estudios y Desarrollo Norte Grande. Recuperado de: (

    Salazar, C., Rojas, L., Lillo, A., & Aguirre, E. (1999). Análisis de requerimientos hídricos de vegas y bofedales del Norte de Chile. Chile: Convenio de Cooperación entre la Dirección General de Aguas, Universidad de Chile y Comisión Chilena de Energía Nuclear.

    Zavala, H., & Cepeda, J. (2006). Caudales ecológicos en vegas altoandinas: un estudio de caso. Geoecología de los Andes desérticos. La Alta Montaña del Valle del Elqui. La Serena, 525-551.

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