Women building resilience

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

In the Andean community San Miguel de Viso a group of women recover a vital space for their people: the community tree nursery. With ingenuity they confront the challenges brought by climate change and water-related hazards in an area where agriculture is the core livelihood.

I would like my community to be wooded to allow a better quality of life, because I understand from the internet that trees call for rain.

Jessica Villagomez, a community member in San Miguel de Viso.

Jessica’s concern for water availability is shared by many communities high in the Peruvian Andes. The situation in the Peruvian countryside is increasingly challenging due to changes in weather patterns, degradation of natural resources, and increased risk from extreme events.

San Miguel de Viso, is located in the San Mateo district, Huarochirí province, and provides an example of this situation. Community members mainly sustain themselves through small-scale agriculture (followed by livestock and commerce), in an inherently sustainable way. Still, the quantity and quality of water available to them has been seriously affected by the loss of the glaciers that formerly fed their water supply and this has been further worsened by changing rainfall patterns, and pollution, natural and artificial, from activities such as mining. 

Additionally, the community has repeatedly been affected by landslides in the Mayo ravine, causing loss of crops, damage to water supply canals, reduction of pasture for animals, and blocking access roads. The latter is particularly challenging since it results in the isolation of the community – putting their food security at serious risk and eroding their overall quality of life. 

The challenging environment has driven increased migration from the countryside to the city. The vast majority of young people have decided to leave San Miguel de Viso, leaving behind an adult population that tries to maintain ancestral and community practices. It is within this population, especially its women, that the hope of the community lies.  

A group of women has decided to respond to these challenges by recovering a vital space for the people: the community nursery. The nursery was originally set up in 2000 by the Ministry of Agriculture, through the National Program for the Management of Hydrographic Basins and Soil Conservation (PRONAMACHCS). The decision to restore it arises from their relationship with Practical Action who as part of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, and through the use of the Flood Resilience Measurement for Communities (FRMC) have identified a set of activities that aim to build community resilience against flooding, one of the most important is restoration of the community environment. 

Faced with complex challenges, the FRMC guides us on the right path to propose this type of comprehensive intervention, aimed at obtaining multiple benefits and co-benefits. 

Lessons for a safer future

The initiative is part of a larger intervention, the Field School for Climate Resilience – a space for interaction and exchange of learning. The objective of the school is to strengthen resilience in San Miguel de Viso through recovery and conservation measures for fragile ecosystems, by diversifying what crops are grown to reduce risks associated with reliability on monoculture, and possibly reduce the risks and impacts of landslides though green infrastructure. 

The communal nursery is the first activity of the Field School for Climate Resilience. Some objectives of the nursery are:

  • Produce native plants that benefit the recharge of aquifers and the reduction of risk against heavy rains and climate change.
  • Propagation of forest species native to the community for afforestation and reforestation in deteriorated areas.
  • To develop participants’ capacities using techniques of facilitation, action and education, recovering previous knowledge and enriching with new techniques.
  • Production of tenthousand seedlings each year.
  • Diversify production and exit monoculture.
  • Increase the economic income of the participating people.
  • Replicate the spread of species in home gardens.

Female leadership

Although men and women of different ages are participating in the project, it is the women in the community who have taken on leadership to manage the nursery. Since the idea stage they have shown commitment and have motivated the rest of the community, reiterating the usefulness and benefits of the nursery.

The nursery has value to the community, it allow learning about different plants and what they can be used for. Many community members do not know that having plantations, whether tree or fruit, is good for our well-being.

Jessica Villagomez

This is particularly important because, despite the fact that women in the community participate in activities such as planting and harvesting crops, raising and selling animals, and community assemblies, many times their role is invisible when making decisions. Likewise, when landslides collapse access roads, causing the isolation of the community, it is the women who face extra effort to provide food for their families. 

These lived experiences of people of different genders must be taken into account when proposing activities for the community. This intervention seeks to achieve a series of social benefits that are sensitive to differences in experiences between genders:

  • Increase leadership, participation and decision-making capacity among women in the community.
  • Empower women through the use and management of the nursery.
  • Create communication and collaboration mechanisms between communities.
  • Promote a space for collaboration and companionship.
  • Allow for individuals of different ages and genders to interact beyond established social norms. 

The Ministry of Agriculture is supporting this initiative through the Rural Agricultural Productive Development Program (AGRO RURAL). The intervention has helped strengthen relations between the community and the Municipality of San Mateo, which is also providing facilities for the nursery. If you want to collaborate in any way, personally or as an institution, and for further information you can contact miluska.ordonez@practicalaction.org . 

An approach to the emergency

Finally, it is necessary to ask the question: how will the COVID-19 pandemic affect these communities? At the end of March 2020, the possible impacts are still uncertain. What we do know is that people in more vulnerable situations will be hit the hardest. The challenges already facing these communities will undermine their resilience and exacerbate the impacts of the pandemic.

The Field School for Climate Resilience, like all our work as part of the Alliance, proposes systematic change, rather than a short-term response. To the Alliance resilience is the ability of a community to pursue its development despite shocks. We might not have seen this specific shock coming but the resilience we’re helping communities to build will allow them to cope better not only with floods but hopefully with the pandemic too. 

This blog is adapted from a Spanish blog originally published on our Latin American Flood Resilience Portal Info Inundaciones on 1 April 2020. You can read the original here.
Thank you to Colin McQuistan for supporting the adaptation to English.
All photography was carried out by Giorgio Madueño. 

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