“High Andean Socio-ecosystems: San Juan de Licupis district in Chancay-Lambayeque headwater”

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                                               By: Mervin Becerra, Martín Leyva and Rossi Taboada

Think about river basin headwaters allows to us consider them as complex systems, like socio-ecosystems. The importance of these areas, besides water supply and how key are for human societies development, includes the necessity of an adaptive and integral management. Far from being isolated, interacts with its ecological, economic and social surrounding, and this is the reason why socio-ecosystems management implies ecological and social systems conjunction, even when their limits does not coincide (Mass & Cotler, 2007).          

High Andean places usually are headwaters scenarios. Generally, these places are characterized by holding population dedicated to agriculture and stockbreeding, with self-managed water systems both for domestic use and for irrigation, a short number of public and private services and strong migration to the valley, considered as a secure job offer place and progress.   

From the top, it can be simple understand how important they are for our function like a system. An extraordinary view is not the only argument, but it can awake the need to watch as a whole what from bellow usually is disaggregated to frame its analysis.          

This time, three PEER Project “Strengthening resilience in Andean river basin headwaters facing Global change” thesis students, Mervin Becerra, Walter Martin Leyva and Rossi Taboada, made a fieldwork in San Juan de Licupis district, located in Chancay-Lambayeque headwater river basin.      

To get to this district, transport media available are two small vans and a track that covers this route twice in a week on round trip. In this way, from Chiclayo city to Chota via the highway until 100 Kilometer that continues in path, construction encouraged by Pro-Carretera Committee which today is San Juan de Licupis association, the team was stablished in one of the nearest caserío to La Montaña lake, La Popa.          

Started as district in 1987, San Juan de Licupis conforms, with eighteen more districts, Chota province, part of Cajamarca region, and share borders with Miracosta district –from where it had been part twenty eight years ago-, Querocoto, Llama and Chongoyape. 

In spite of possess mountainous geography with big pending and cold weather, with clouds capable to involve the entire district until the point to restrict view 10 meters in front, agriculture and stockbreeding characterizes this town, like many high Andean places. Amongst main crops, predominantly non-irrigated, there are potato –commercialized to Chongoyape and Chiclayo, olluco, oca, broad bean, pea, wheat, corn, barley and in some places quinua. On the other hand, stockbreeding is mostly creole cattle, fed with natural pastures in paddocks and, in some cases, in communal places located in the high, near to La Montaña’s lake.      

Five hours to Chongoyape, part of Lambayeque region, dynamic between both districts is expected. Due to it is the migratory destination for many chotanos, mobility precedes the highway; Chongoyape, as just as Moshoqueque in Chiclayo, is the main market where farmers allocates their production and at the same time where they buy essential products.              

According to this dynamic, civil registry services and municipal management are located in Chiclayo because better access to Cajamarca city. Nevertheless, the district is not leaderless since there are grassroots organizations in charge of natural resources management, like Peasant Community and its authorities, Peasant round, municipal delegates and water user’s organizations.       

In addition, the reason for the recovery Peasant round was related to cattle rustling that years ago farmers suffered. This turned into a serious concern; “almost four heads per day” were stolen to farmers, mostly of them from San Antonio caserio, where the most active round is located.   

Moreover, domestic and irrigation water management is in charge of local organizations and depending on the number of users can be responsibility of family groups. Besides it is a dry crops area, irrigation becomes important in summer, from May to November, when rains stops and water is not enough for all farmers, and the situation can gets worst due to canal infrastructure poor condition.             

It is in speaking about these periods when water sources importance, in this case lakes, blows up in the speech and lead its protection argument. In San Juan de Licupis, its defense is not framed in mining conflicts like usually does in Cajamarca region, but for water sources property and the conflict with Miracosta for lakes, which was overtaken only with constant dialog and let them today share lakes without controversies.           

As self-managed natural resources system and as community, San Juan de Licupis deals with many challenges, like uncertainty about their cropping season because land poor performance, poor grey infrastructure in canals and lack of credit access.   

“Let us suppose, we want to make potatoes farm; but if you do not have yunta, if you do not have sources to buy seeds. How are you going to do that work? If it rains, you have campaign; if not, you got nothing. […] Times before, with six wheat tins I harvested one hundred and seventy; that was the first and the last time. Now, I just got thirty. Probably it is because of rains, what could it be? In this season we should have been using high boots; but look, there is just wind.” It is what Mr. Galeano says about extreme variability today watched and uncertainty in front of poor land efficiency.              

Furthermore, certain confusion was emerged in accordance to recent water rights formalization promoted by Autoridad Nacional del Agua (ANA). 

“How would they want us to improve our technology if we do not have credits? How are we going to registered ourselves and pay if we do not have covered canals? If this is what we made, if they never have been here.”

As we could see, these are some questions formulated by many San Juan de Licupis farmers, and like this in many high-Andean places. Its perception of a sudden government presence through ANA caused different positions; on the one hand there is interest and hope in improvements, but on the other it was considered as irruptive, ignoring organization ways that has been functional for many years and have not been taking in count.          

Like in this district, many high Andean places reveal several challenges being the complex systems link looked from time to time. An integrated vision that moves from to analyze parts of the system to consider them as a whole and be aware of drivers that transforms them, will allow academic and political fields decision-making processes and management oriented to sustainable with more equity.      



Maass, J.M. & H. Cotler. 2007. Protocolo para el manejo de ecosistemas en cuencas hidrográficas. En: Cotler, H. (ed.). El manejo integral de cuencas en México: estudios y reflexiones para orientar la política ambiental. Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, Instituto Nacional de Ecología, México, D.F. México. Pp. 41-58


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