Indigenous Values Should Be a Key Component of Our Response to Climate Change

Thus far, I have written posts on what sustainable development is, sustainable development in Peru, the ways indigenous land entitlement can be seen as sustainable development, the differences between community sustaining development and government mandated development and the role of microfinance and digital payment in development in Peru. To conclude this set of blog posts, I would like to write more about agriculture and development with a focus on terminator seeds (seeds that are genetically modified so that the second generation of seeds are sterile). Many problems arise from terminator seeds including soil degradation and increased farmers’ dependency on large seed providers such as Monsanto and Syngenta because new seeds need to be bought each year.

An article in a Mexican news forum, Quadratin, points out that agricultural chemicals and nitrogen fertilizer were not actually invented for agriculture but were a product of war. They report that these strong chemicals, can have serious health consequences. For example, in Peru in 1999, 24 children died because they were poisoned by eating food contaminated by Parathion, an insecticide. Problems of contamination, however, are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of all the problems caused by terminator seeds and chemical farming.

The organization Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES) held a community meeting in 2005 to discuss the potential impacts of terminator seeds on Peruvian agriculture. About 70 indigenous leaders met together for this discussion and produced a report for the UN working group to submit at the next Convention on Biological Diversity. The main worries voiced included fear that the “pollen from terminator seeds could transfer sterility to and effectively kill off other crops and plant life (ANDES),” worry about increased dependence on monster seed distribution companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta, and concern that terminator seeds could put Peru’s 3,000 varieties of potatoes at risk as reported on History Commons. The concerns also include loss of biodiversity, “erosion of indigenous knowledge and innovation systems” which include knowledge of seed saving and exchange, loss of food sovereignty, cutting back of indigenous human rights and marginalization of women (quoted from the report itself). History Commons quoted Felipe Gonzalez, a member of the indigenous Pinchimoro community who said, “[t]erminator seeds do not have life…[l]ike a plague they will come infecting our crops and carrying sickness. We want to continue using our own seeds and our own customs of seed conservation and sharing.”

A letter signed by representatives of 34 indigenous communities provides another example of the struggle against ending the international de facto moratorium on terminator seeds. As IIED reports ‘the coalition says Syngenta’s claims that its patent for ‘terminator technology’ potatoes is neither relevant nor applicable in the region are “deeply offensive.”’ The coalition requests that Syngenta disown the patent of a genetic modification that can stop potatoes from sprouting. Despite the de facto moratorium, research continues and corporations want to see the ban revoked. One quote that really stuck out to me in this same article was said by Alejandro Argumendo who is part of ANDES. He said “We feel greatly disrespected by corporations that make a single genetic alteration to a plant and then claim private ownership when these plants are the result of thousands of years of careful breeding by indigenous people.” In the end, the moratorium on terminator seeds was not relaxed to the relief of the indigenous Quechua working so hard against it in Peru as well as to people all over the world yet an end to the moratorium in the future is still a very real possibility.

One prime example of a program ANDES operates that works with bio cultural conservation is the Potato Park where six Quechua communities live and cultivate about 1,500 varieties of potato. As the ANDES website explains “[t]he communities’ traditional knowledge, customary laws and spiritual beliefs that nurture these resources are in turn shaped and sustained by the Andean ancestral landscapes and their sacred mountain gods or Apus.”

Respect for indigenous values and traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples “is a key component in the response to climate change.” Various organizations, including ANDES are coming together to bring attention to the power of having indigenous cultural and spiritual values as central in the fight to slow global warming.  The brief “Indigenous spiritual and cultural values to guide climate change adaptation” quotes Karenna Gore, the director of Center for Earth Ethics saying, “[i]ndigenous spirituality seeks powerful connection to larger purposes and meaning, celebrates biodiversity and promotes inclusion…[t]he world especially needs that kind of worldview at this time. This great body of knowledge has a wealth of adaptive capacity. It not only protects the wellbeing of indigenous peoples; it also promotes an awareness of our deep interconnected relationship with nature that can enhance our world as a whole.” This powerful quote resonates with me personally. I strongly believe that indigenous valuation of the earth must be central to a reformed society that is truly able to take care of the earth, which is why I chose to write my blog posts on the topic of sustainable development and the Quechua and Aymara peoples of Peru.




Alcalá, Salvador. “Los Orgánicos.” Quadratin. 04 Mar. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <>.

“Biocultural Conservation – Sallqa Ayllu.” ANDES. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <>.

“COP21 ANDES in Paris.” Asociación ANDES. 9 Dec. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <>.

“Indigenous Peoples of Cusco, Peru on the Potential Impacts of Terminator.” Letter to Hamdallah Zedan. 27 Sept. 2005. 27 Sept. 2005. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

“‘Insulted’ Andean Farmers Pick GM Potato Fight with Multinational Syngenta.” International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). 12 Jan. 2007. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <>

Profile: Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES).” History Commons. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <>.

Microfinance and Digital Payment in Peru

I am overwhelmed by the lack of available research and information on indigenous development policies and earth-centric development thinking. I am convinced that this critique of development exists within Peruvian indigenous peoples’ groups because I saw alternative development at work while I lived in Peru. Like I previously wrote, the farmers I worked with were deeply in tune with the earth and practiced traditional Quechua farming. There is no way that the Quechua ideals of development and sustainability corresponds with those of the Western, consumerist world. Yet I have not been able to find any information on these ideals I have imagined. At the same time, cell phones proliferate even in remote Andean villages and most of the articles I have read (both in US and in Peruvian newspapers) on development routinely focus on economic development. Because of this lack of information and because of the present consumerist culture in Peru, I have decided to turn the other direction for this post and to look into microfinance in Peru.

Surprisingly, less than one third of Peruvians have bank accounts which means about 10 million Peruvians do not use financial services and rely wholly on cash and barter trade. This is in part due to Peru’s rugged terrain which makes accessing physical banks extremely difficult. One example of the increasing popularity of finance in Peru is Bim which is a digital payment service that can be used through mobile phones. Because of this, Bim is an easy-to-use financial service and even makes an effort to use short, and simple words during transactions “for example, instead of making a deposit. We say ‘Putting money in the phone’” as the managing director of Peruvian Digital Payments, Caroline Trivelli explained to The Guardian. By 2021, the Peruvian government hopes to be able to provide at least 75 percent of all adults with access to transaction accounts.

While more and more people across the world have access to transaction accounts which is great, account owners are also increasingly vulnerable to abuse.  As Elisabeth Rhyne wrote in The Guardian “A woman in Peru bought theft insurance at a street kiosk only to find, after a robbery, that she did not know and could not find out how to claim against the policy.” Many customers are also unsure of the effects of credit ratings or how to lodge complaints. This article also highlights the importance of simple language to highlight essential information, including that “[r]esponsible lenders and regulators should verify that clients understand key facts before signing off loans.”

Despite the insecurity and risk of exploitation that come with using financial services, a report published in Microfinance Information Exchange presents data on Peruvian use of microfinance services. As the report succinctly states “the main findings are: (1) 69 percent of the respondents rated their relationship with their loan officer as good, and 28 percent rated the relationship as average; (2) among clients who did not use their loan to pay back another loan, most said they benefited from their loans; (3) Approximately 50 percent experienced issues regarding loan repayment, and these issues increased with the number of loans taken; (4) Around 27 percent of clients could not recall if they knew the interest rates they would pay before accepting their loans; (5) Roughly 60 percent were not aware of the existence of complaint mechanisms available to them.”

Microfinance is not just an economic activity but a social one. Dean Karlan of Yale, Markus M. Mobius of Harvard, Tanya S. Rosenblat of Iowa State and Adam Szeidl of UC Berkeley came together to investigate how the use of microfinance might be used to determine the level of trust in two shantytowns in Lima. Approximately 25 local sponsors were recruited as loan officers and “were assigned a credit line based on their capacity to pay. They were allowed to use 30 percent of this credit line for personal loans or loans to other members of their household at a preferential rate. They participated in a training session held by the credit officer, explaining the program, how to sponsor clients, and what to look for in responsible client.” In the end, the study concluded that “both prices and social relations matter for allocating credit in Peruvian shantytowns.”

In conclusion, microfinance and non-bank financial transactions are playing an ever increasing role in the Peruvian economy despite my idealized vision of earth-centric reform to development and how I thought indigenous peoples connected to the land would espouse the ideals of truly sustainable development. I can see lots of positive aspects of microfinance and increased financial literacy and stability for rural Peruvians. However, I am still struggling with combining microfinance with my ideals of earth-sustaining and culture-preserving development that does not focus on output and consumption as markers of advancement.



Works Cited:

“Africa Agro-banks Interested in Credit Technology of Peru Agrobanco.” Andina: Del Perú Para El Mundo. 16 Mar. 2016. Web. 05 Apr. 2016. <>.

Collyns, Dan. “Peru Mobile Money Scheme Could Herald a New Dawn for Nuevo Sol | Dan Collyns.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 09 Oct. 2015. Web. 05 Apr. 2016. <>.

Karlan, Dean, Markus M. Mobius, Tanya S. Rosenblat, and Adam Szeidl. Measuring Trust in Peruvian Shantytowns. July 2009. Web. 5 Apr. 2016. <>.

“MICROFINANCE PUBLICATION ROUND-UP: MFI Client Satisfaction and Consumer Protection in Peru; Mobile Microfinance Users Predicted to Triple by 2020; Mobilizing Savings Through Agency Banking.” MicroCapital. 1 Apr. 2016. Web. 05 Apr. 2016. <>.

Rhyne, Elisabeth. “Do Lenders Make Clear the Risks of Microfinance Loans? | Elisabeth Rhyne.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 17 Mar. 2016. Web. 05 Apr. 2016. <>.


Community Sustaining Development v. Government Mandated Development


Continuing with my theme of alternatives to economic development, I am going to use this post to profile three development initiatives and organizations in Peru and will contrast these programs with the government program to eradicate illegal coca farming. Despite opening up these blogs as a means to interrogate alternatives to economically focused development, I have had a lot of trouble finding information on specifically indigenous and Quechua development efforts which is why I have chosen to look at the difference between community engaged and government mandated development in this post.

As reported in the Health and Human Rights Journal, Amazonian Peoples’ Resources Initiative (APRI) was founded in 1995 and works with rural communities in the Peruvian Amazon. They have four primary programs which are 1) training local women to provide reproductive information to their own communities, 2) disseminating reproductive health information through radio, 3) working to better educational opportunities by providing financial scholarships and support to “indigenous teacher training and graduate university programs (220),” and 4) through providing “income-generating opportunities that enable rural families to meet their subsistence needs and to invest in the development of their communities (220).”

Water for People Peru is another successful organization working for development within the country. They work to develop water resource management and to increase sanitation. To do this, they focus on sanitation as a business which “includes helping families gain access to credit for toilet construction through loans from banks and cooperatives, and encouraging existing sanitation goods and service companies (such as hardware stores) to include affordable products for low-income customers in their portfolios.”

Solaris Perú is a Peruvian Organization that works with poor and excluded families. Some of their projects include improving health and education. One specific initiative is the their “Programa de Atención Médica Especializada” (Program for Specialized Medical Attention). This program sprang out of the fact that many areas outside of Lima, the capital, do not have specialized health services and children with chronic illnesses often need to make the trek to Lima for care which is not always economically feasible. Their program has attended to more than 1100 children and teenagers with genetic health problems and chronic, degenerative diseases. This program is currently operating in Arequipa, Apurímac, Cusco, La Libertad, Lambayeque and Puno.

These three programs/organizations/initiatives have overall been very successful and I see their degree of connection and engagement with the communities that they are trying to help as vital to their success. I was especially struck by the APRI and how sensitive the organization is to prevailing cultural attitudes on family planning.

Contrastingly, the efforts to eradicate the illegal coca growing industry have been very top down and have impacted various communities negatively. As the BBC reports, 12,000 hectares of coca are permitted to be grown in Peru, however, there is a huge illegal business in coca growing. The core problem of the efforts to reduce coca farming is that alternative crops such as coffee and fruit do not sell for enough to offer a living to the farmers. Therefore, farming coca is an economic necessity. In 2003, the BBC quoted Hugo Cabiesas (an advisor of the coca farmers, also called cocaleros) who said, “[t]he coca farmers have become more politicized in the last two years…they’re demanding an end to the eradication of coca by force, and they also want more say in the programmes to develop alternative crops.” The Peruvian Times makes note of the violence between farmers and the government due to anger about the lack of infrastructure providing farmers with alternate sources of income or alternate crops.

As reported by the BBC, the US insists on running the project although “[t]here are moments when there are differences and tensions,” according to Mils Ericsson the head of the Peruvian Drug Control Policy Unit, who goes on to state that, “[w]e would actually prefer for a Peruvian agricultural agency to run the projects, but the US insists on having their own team of people in charge.” As the Guardian explains, the problem of coca eradication is not one of the past. During 2015, the Peruvian government hoped to destroy 35,000 hectares of coca which is an area about the size of Philadelphia. Some families do get transitional assistance but many of the 95,000 families were not offered any or rejected the offer. As one coca farmer explained her choice to refuse government assistance, “[t]hey give you a machete and a few cacao seeds and then they forget about you.”

As we can see from these contrasting examples of “development” in Peru, top down, government backed programs that are forced onto the population without consulting the communities first does not appear as development at all. On the other hand, initiatives that focus on the community first and look at what they need in order to craft programs appear to work much more effectively and with less strife.




Dean, Bartholomew et al.. “The Amazonian Peoples’ Resources Initiative: Promoting Reproductive Rights and Community Development in the Peruvian Amazon”. Health and Human Rights 4.2 (2000): 219–226. Web. Accessed 1 April 2016. <>.

“Misión Y Visión.” Solaris Perú. Web. 1 Apr. 2016. <>.

“Peru Coca Growers Decry Insufficient Compensation for Anti-drug Eradication.” The Guardian. 17 Aug. 2015. Web. 1 Apr. 2016. <>.

“Peruvian Anger Over Coca Plans.” BBC News. 22 Oct. 2003. Web. 1 Apr. 2016. <>.

“Peru.” Water for People. Web. 01 Apr. 2016. <>.

“Police, Coca Farmers Clash Results in Two Deaths.” Andean Air Mail and Peruvian Times. 29 Aug. 2012. Web. 1 Apr. 2016. <>.

What do you know about the Incans?

I had always associated the Incans, and also the Mayans and the Aztecs, with violence and South America. Upon arriving in college, my limited knowledge of those civilizations were added to with insights from friends from Peru and Chile who told me that they were not just violent, but barbarous and cruel. And it’s a shame to have been oblivious to their terrific farming techniques and intuitions that, people now speculate, could be the alternatives to face the inevitable climate change and food insecurity for people of the Andes today.

The Andean platform is in itself an obstacle for farming with its mountains and intermittent waterways. But the way that the Incans maneuvered yields from this terrain is fascinating. From creating Andenes, terraces dug in mountains for agriculture, to engineering irrigation systems that retained water efficiently, the Incans coaxed crops such as quinoa, potatoes and maize from the unlikely terrains of the Andes. They used stones of various dimensions along with dirt, gravel and sand to create excellent drainage systems in terraces, which were equally efficient in retaining water. The stones used in terraces were more advantageous as they not only made terrace farming plausible, but they also retained heat that was beneficial to plants with sensitive roots when the temperature plunged.

The Incan knowledge was not just bound to infrastructural techniques. They were also well acquainted of the fact that different crops like corn, quinoa and squash, when planted together as opposed to individual plots, yielded better results because they symbiotically protected and nourished each other. They were also well equipped with crops such as , a bitter potato variety that resists hail, frost, droughts and excess rain that can be dried and stored for years, to avoid famine.

Quinoa harvest in Peru

But with the onset of the sixteenth century, when the Spanish invaders colonized the areas of Incan civilization, Incan lives perished and with them their inspiring agricultural methods. It is estimated that more than half of the Incan population was wiped off and those who survived were forced to assimilate their traditional farming knowledge to Spanish choices of crops and methods. And what remained was the residue of the achievements of the past: remnants of ancient terraces and hollows of dried up canals.

Luckily, the Cusihaca Trust has taken the initiative to prevent the Incan ways from just being penned in history books by reviving those ancient ways in present day Peru. The Trust that initially started as archaeological investigation in 1977 at sites in the Cusichaca Valley close to the famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu now pioneers in the restoration of traditional Andean agricultural terraces and irrigation canals to reduce poverty and increase self-sufficiency amongst isolated rural communities in Peru. The trust has rehabilitated ancient terraces and canals, encompassing 160 hectares of the Patacancha Valley near Cuzco, thus uplifting the most vulnerable people in these regions by flourishing the possibilities of agriculture. Farmers are also readopting the tradition of multiple crops together and the results are valuably both economically and environmentally.

Not only trusts like the Cusihaca Trust, but even the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment have stressed the importance of practices such as reclaiming diverse native Andean crops and rebuilding the infrastructure of pre-Hispanic irrigation to counteract the grievous impacts of droughts, shrinking glaciers, unpredictable climate changes, and food insecurities.

The Cusihaca Trust has been fruitful in its endeavors and is steadily expanding its practice and visions to more areas. With support from the government itself, it is evident that reinvigorating ancient and wise techniques are far better than forsaking them.


Graber, Cynthia. “Framing Like the Incas”. Smithsonian. 6 Sept. 2011. Web. 18 Mar. 2016

Krajick, Kevin. “Ancestors of Science: Green Farming by the Incas?”. Science AAAS. 4 Nov. 2005. Web. 24 Mar. 2016

Indigenous Land Entitlement as Sustainable Development

Colca Canyon agricultural terraces

While I lived on an organic farm in Peru, every day I saw contrasting images of sustainability and development at play. The farmers I worked for farmed in traditional Quechua fashion, which is similar to permaculture farming. They attempted to re-use everything; bamboo that was overtaking other plants was cut down and then used as poles to tie weaker plants to, stones were used to beautifully line pathways and any extra food was given to the chickens. However, an hour away from this fertile, sustainably focused valley lay such bad traffic that we never left the farm except for at five a.m. Cars spewing fumes furiously vied over limited space darting and swooping with little regard for the pollution caused. Tragically, I believe that the bustle of cities is seen as better developed than the quiet farm where we lived, practicing centuries old traditions of earth stewardship.

Now that I have provided some basic information on sustainable development, the Peruvian economy and an example of a current, successful grass-roots development project in my previous post, I would like to take this post to examine land rights for indigenous peoples in Peru and how this relates to sustainability and development.

In 2011 the Peruvian government approved a bill that gave indigenous people the “right to prior consultation on legislation or infrastructure projects that would affect them or their territories” as detailed in The Guardian. However, the government’s goals with this bill are questionable because their main aim was to increase foreign investment by decreasing the likelihood of social conflict over extractive practices. Furthermore, despite the increased protection, the Peruvian government still has the final say if conflicts arise. Despite these glaring setbacks, this was a landmark bill that “mark[ed] an important moment for Latin America,” according to Carla García Zendejas (as quoted in The Guardian).

A report later produced by Peru’s national indigenous group Aidesep berated Peru for “failing to protect the rights of indigenous people in its Amazon rainforest, [and] putting at risk the individuals and the carbon stored in their lands,” according to the Peruvian Times. Aidesep argues that the real cause of deforestation is “explicit colonization programs on the part of the government,” as quoted in the Peruvian Times. Community leaders have asked for land titling and protection but to no avail, which demonstrates how hollow the 2011 bill giving rights to prior consultation was. The report goes on the request legal and financial support from the government for indigenous groups to chart their own development trajectories and asks for structures to “ensure economic interests do not trump all other considerations” (as quoted in the Peruvian Times).

The Center of Development for the Amazon’s Indigenous People (CEDIA) is one example of land titling as sustainable development and has reportedly managed to protect extensive tracts of the Amazon rainforest due to their strong relationship with the Peruvian government according to the Blue Moon Fund Group which works to financially support mitigating climate change. One of CEDIA’s current projects listed on their website is Community Forest Management for Biodiversity Conservation through the Titling Territories and Institutional Strengthening Community in three watersheds of the Southern Peruvian Amazon. This project seeks to increase conservation areas and to build capacity for communal management of territories. As CEDIA explains in a report of this project, “many communities in the basin of the Apurimac, Urubamba and Alto Madre de Dios rivers still lack recognition of their ancestral territories and consequently were not entitled. In other cases their communal territories are not entitled to use their ancestral areas and require expansion. Many of these territories over which they have no title, have been invaded and are currently under coca cultivation and illegal logging.”

I believe that the movement to entitle native land could have a significant impact on sustainability efforts. As I explained in my last post, the Quechua culture is very much tied to the land. As I read in the article “Fragile Lands, Fragile Organizations: Indian Organizations and the Politics of Sustainable Development in Ecuador,” traditional practices are often sustainable “by virtue of their biological diversity and structural congruity with the natural environment.” Although this article is written about Ecuador, the countries border each other and both contain the fragile lands of lowland Amazonia and the Andes, and both are home to the Quechua people. The authors of this piece see traditional practice combined with modern technology as the most ecologically and economically viable strategy for environmental stewardship and note the importance of local organizations in mobilizing these strategies.

Because of the importance of traditional strategies for sustainable development, land entitlement and rights take on a new meaning in terms of development and sustainability. Land rights are of the utmost importance in restoration and in working to debunk the myth that development needs to come with bustling, polluted cities, mass consumption and distance from indigenous land stewardship practices. As we saw with the example of CEDIA’s work, community managed sustainability projects can reach a long way.



Works Cited:

Bebbington, Anthony J. et al.. “Fragile Lands, Fragile Organizations: Indian Organizations and the Politics of Sustainability in Ecuador”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 18.2 (1993): 179–196. Web.

Cabitza, Mattia. “Peru Leads the Way for Latin America’s Indigenous Communities | Mattia Cabitza.” The Guardian. 12 Sept. 2011. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <>.

“Community Land Management–Current.” Cedia: Centro Para El Desarollo Del Indígena Amazónico. 2013. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <>.

“Peru Criticized for ‘Disregarding’ Rights of Indigenous in Amazon.” Andean Air Mail and Peruvian Times. 5 Dec. 2014. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <>.

“Working with Peru to Support Long-term Conservation in the Amazon – Blue Moon Fund.” Blue Moon Fund Working with Peru to Support Longterm Conservation in the Amazon Comments. Web. 23 Mar. 2016. <>.