Unesco Green Citizens

Ancestral Technologies and Climate Change

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Project begin: 01/04/2013

Reconnecting with ancestral traditions has saved communities living near the Peruvian Nor-Yauyos Cochas Landscape Reserve from water scarcity!  Together with Instituto de Montaña, local communities took the initiative to rebuild an abandoned ancestral hydraulic system, which today provides them with water storage and improved irrigation systems. 

In April 2013, Instituto de Montaña began working in Peru’s Nor-Yauyos Cochas Landscape Reserve (RPNYC) with communities affected by increasing water scarcity. Together, they rediscovered the existence of a vast, complex and partially abandoned hydraulic system to manage water in the alpine high-plateau, or Puna. Through a complex of dams and open earth canals, these systems increased soil and ground water storage, creating niche plant communities for camelid herds and improved water supplies to irrigation systems. Recognizing the potential of these ancestral systems to address modern-day water scarcity, they organized a process for dialogue between indigenous experts and multi-disciplinary teams of archaeologists, anthropologist and geo-hydrologists.

This transdisciplinary approach resulted in a suite of green-grey hybrid solutions adapted to the existing demographic, organizational and economic context of highland communities.


Leading organisation: Instituto de Montaña
Covered Countries: Peru
Theme: Biodiversity, Hydrology, Indigenous and Local Knowledge
Sub-themes: Access to water, Natural disasters risk reduction, Natural disasters risk reduction, Natural disasters risk reduction, Natural resource management, Natural resource management, Participatory science/citizen science, Water education, Water resource management, Water scarcity and quality, Water science
Selection: 2020
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Initial Problem

Increases in average annual temperatures in high-elevation tropical mountains like the Andes are projected to be considerably higher than the planetary average. Already, glacier recession is leading to a reduction in water base-flow and the drying out of grasslands, moorlands (bofedales) and waterholes on which pastoralist communities depend. These processes are triggering a chain of additional impacts, including overstocking of animals in grasslands that still have water, soil erosion, destructive fires, and increased vulnerability to agricultural failure. This problem affects first and foremost the population living under the poverty line in mountain areas (approximately 50% in Peru) and contributes to perpetuate this condition.

The positive impacts that the project has made

Immediate results included the restoration of watering holes and improved grasslands. Instituto de Montaña documented and analyzed the social, environmental and cost-benefit aspects of this hybrid innovation in 2015, and an analysis of the longer-term environmental impacts is under way.
Since completing the pilot restorations in the RPNYC, base flow during the dry season has increased. Geologic water storage has restored springs and waterholes, and fire risk has decreased due to higher pasture humidity. Today, farmers are improving livestock rotation and reducing grazing pressure. The condition of grasslands managed within the project has improved from ‘very poor’ to ‘poor’ and ‘regular’ within 24 months (Parker scale). Milk and meat production are improving, with implications for food security.
They expect that this project will result in reduced grazing pressure, increased water retention, reduced fire impacts, improved storage of soil organic carbon, greater resilience to climate extremes, and improved water security for lower-elevation farming. 

The impacted areas and population

The project is directly impacting 1800 people in four communities of Peru’s Nor-Yauyos Cochas Landscape Reserve (RPNYC). Additionally, thousands of herding households in rural areas of the puna of Peru (50,3% of them live in a context of poverty) may eventually benefit from restoration of ancestral water technologies, expanding the scope of impact of this project. 

Moreover, the Landscape Reserve has been impacted by reducing risks to agropastoralists, opening way to innovation and investment. 

The obstacles and challenges

Out-migration in some Andean communities is reducing their capacity to maintain labor-intensive ancestral technologies, such as open-earth canals. In response, they developed low labor-hybrid solution with underground PVC pipelines, allowing a single person to manage water flow to grasslands or agricultural fields, eliminating the need to clean canals and improving grassland rotation in hundreds of hectares.
Context-sensitive technical solutions are designed in close cooperation with the community to ensure their sustainability (e.g. water management rules, established rights and duties, agreements for livestock grazing area rotation).

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