Dr. Raúl R. Vera

1. Introduction
2. Soils and Topography
3. Climate and Agro-ecological Zones
4. Ruminant Livestock Production Systems
5. The Pasture Resource
6. Opportunities for Improvement of Pasture Resources
7. Research and Development Organizations and Personnel
8. References
9. Contacts
10. The Author


The Republic of Peru (República del Perú) is on the Pacific coast of South America (Figure 1), along which it has 2,400 km of coast. The geographic coordinates of Perú are 100 00 S, 760 00 W. It has a surface area of 1,285,216 square kilometres making it the fourth largest Latin American nation. It is the largest of the Andean countries and the only one that borders all the others. It borders Colombia and Ecuador in the north, Brazil and Bolivia to the east, and Chile to the south.

Its population of 22,767,543 in July 1992 (28,302,603; July 2006 est. according to the World Factbook) ranks fifth in the subcontinent. As in most other South American countries the population is largely urban (70.2 percent urban and 29.8 percent rural in 1990), and over the period 1985-1990 grew at a rate of 2.5 percent per annum, but by 1999 this had dropped to an estimated 1.93 percent and 1.32% by 2006 according to the World Factbook. Ethnic groups include: Amerindian 45 percent, mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 37 percent, white 15 percent, black, Japanese, Chinese and other 3 percent. The proportion of the population estimated to be below the poverty line was 54 percent in 1991.

The country is known as the cradle of the most advanced indigenous civilizations and most powerful empire in pre-Columbian South America-that of the Incas. Peru was also the focus of Spanish colonial domination for its first two hundred years of rule.


The development of Andean agriculture started about 9,000 years ago, when inhabitants began to experiment with natural resources. Each ecological niche, or "floor," begins about 500 to 1 000 m. vertically above the previous, forming a minutely graduated and specialized environment for life.

Figure 1: PERU. Administrative Departments and Relief

The central Andean area is, thus, a very complex biosphere, and an important prehistoric centre of plant domestication which includes potatoes, maize (Zea mays), lima beans, peppers, yucca or manioc, cotton, squashes and gourds, pineapples, avocado, and coca, as well as many varieties of fruits and other products.

The Spanish introduced wheat, barley, rice, and other grains; vegetables like carrots; sugarcane; tea and coffee; and fruits, such as grapes, oranges, and olives. Although there is great diversity in native fauna, the only large domesticated animals are the llamas and alpacas (South American camelids). The addition of Old World cattle, swine, sheep, goats, fowls, and draught animals increased Andean resources and altered work methods, diets, and health.

In Perú, and contrary to what happens in most other Latin America countries, agriculture contributed only 7 percent to the gross national product (GDP) in 1997, whereas industry was responsible for 37 percent and services for 56 percent. The most important fact about the agricultural sector is that its production has not kept up with population growth. Total output of agriculture and fishing combined rose 63 percent between 1965 and 1988, but output per capita fell by 11 percent. From 1948 to 1952, Peru exported 23 percent of its agricultural output; by 1976 the export share was down to 8 percent. The trade balance for the agricultural sector remained consistently positive through the 1970s but then turned into an import surplus for the 1980s. Contrary to the experience of many other countries in the region, productivity for most crops other than rice showed little or no improvement from 1979 to 1989 but yields began to improve in the 90s.

Land use

In the heart of the 8,900 km-long Andean range, Peru's geography and climates, although similar to those of its Andean neighbours, form their own peculiar conditions, making the region one of the world's most heterogeneous and dynamic. Peru's principal natural features are its desert coast; the forty great snow-covered peaks above 6,000 m. in altitude, and the mountain ranges they anchor; Lake Titicaca, which is shared with Bolivia, and at 3,809 m. above sea level the world's highest navigable lake; and the vast web of tropical rivers like the Ucayali, Marañón, and Huallaga, which join to form the Amazon above Peru's port of Iquitos which provides an exit to the Atlantic ocean via the latter river. In Peru, the Andes consist of two parallel ranges, the Cordillera Occidental and Cordillera Oriental. The combination of high elevations and latitudinal range give rise to several types of specialized alpine environments.

The Sierra or high Andes is the commanding feature of Peru's territory, reaching heights up to 6,768 m. The steep, arid Pacific slopes of the Andes support only a sparse population in villages located at infrequent springs. In contrast, tropical forests cover the eastern side of the Andes as high as 2 100 m. Between these extremes lie the most populous highland ecological zones: the intermontane valleys (kichwa) and the higher uplands and grassy puna or Altiplano plateaus. Approximately 36 percent of the population lives in thousands of small villages that constitute the rural hinterland for the regional capitals and trading centres. Over 15 percent of Peruvians live at altitudes between 2,000 and 3,000 m, 20 percent live between 3,000 and 4,000 m, and 1 percent regularly reside at altitudes above 4,000 m.

Table 1. Major geographic regions of Peru (Source: Schaus, 1987)


Area, km2


Population 1

Persons/ km2

Coastal area (Costa)





Andean highlands (Sierra)





High jungle (Selva alta)





Lowland jungle (Selva baja)










1 As of 1985

Peru has several distinct land areas that severely condition the development of agricultural crops and livestock. The Western coast (Costa) is mountainous and arid to desertic. The Andes mountains in the centre of the country (Andean highlands or Sierra) are high and rugged. Less than one-fourth of Sierra, includes cold, high-altitude grasslands (the Puna), a natural pasture. The Puna widens into an extensive plateau, the Altiplano, adjoining Bolivia in the southern Sierra. The Eastern lowlands consist of semi-tropical and rugged cloud forests of eastern slopes (Montaña), lying between 800 and 3,800 m. above sea level and jungle (Selva), which includes high jungle (selva alta), lying between 400 and 800 m, and tropical lowland forest (selva baja) of Amazon Basin, lying between 80 and 400 m. The Costa, Sierra, and Selva form the major terrestrial regions of the country (Table 1).

Each area, however, contains special ecological niches and microclimates generated by ocean currents, the wide range of Andean altitudes, solar angles and slopes, and the configurations of the vast Amazonian area. Because of these complexities, a large number of ecological sub regions have been identified by different authors for different purposes. Over all, land use is as follows: 3 percent arable, 21 percent meadows and pastures, 55  percent forest and woodland, and 21 percent other, including 1 percent irrigated.

Table 2. Land resources of Peru, 1,000 ha (Source: FAO databases 2000)

Land area Agricultural area Arable
Arable, percent of Agricultural Agricultural, percent of land area








Table 3. Peru statistics for livestock numbers, meat and milk production for the period 1995-2005
(Source: FAO databases 2006)

Stocks / Products






2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
nos (,000)
4513 4646 4560 4657 4903 4927 4962 4990 5046 5050 5100
nos (,000)
12.6 12.7 13.1 13.6 14.3 14.7 14.3 14.0 14.0 14.1 14.0
nos (,000)
2044 2023 2048 2019 2068 2023 1998 1942 1942 1950 2000
3829 3787 3796 3807 4147 4191 4146 4325 4380 4400 4500
Beef & veal prod.
(Mt ,000)
107.1 110.1 118.2 123.9 133.5 136.2 137.8 141.5 144.9 151.9 152.0
Cow milk fresh
(Mt ,000)
857.5 904.9 948.1 998.1 1013 1067 1115 1194 1226 1265 1290
Mutton & Lamb
(Mt ,000)
18.9 20.3 21.5 22.6 29.8 31.0 31.8 31.8 32.3 33.5 33.6
Meat of camelids
(Mt ,000)
10.3 9.9 10.2 10.7 11.0 11.5 11.5 12.3 12.2 13.2 13.3

The ruminant sector

Tables 2 and 3 summarize the land resources and livestock population of Peru. It is estimated that the majority of cattle, sheep and camelids are found at altitudes between 2,200 and 4,500 m. above sea level (Flores, 1996). As shown in Tables 3 and 4, the country is a net importer of beef and milk, although the latter sector in the 1990s grew at a sustained rate of approximately 2.8 percent per year.

Table 4. PERU, Imports and exports of beef and veal, milk, and wool (Metric tons).
Source: FAO databases 2006






2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005

Beef and Veal






4 n.r.






4192 n.r.

Milk equivalent






76.5 n.r.






187.7 n.r.

Wool, greasy






2756 n.r.






25 n.r.

Wool, scoured






63 n.r.






32 n.r.
n.r. no record


Obstacles to increasing agricultural and livestock production include the poor quality of much of the country's land and the high degree of dependence on erratic supplies of water, plus the negative effects of public policies toward agriculture. For example, the per capita agricultural land of Peru is 0.3 ha, compared to a mean of 0.44 ha per capita for the whole of Latin America. As shown in Table 1, 56 percent of the population is concentrated in the arid coastal area, which represents 11 percent of the country’s surface area. As in many other Latin American countries government policies in the 1980s and 1990s favoured urban consumers at the expense of rural producers.

Another important set of questions bearing on agricultural productivity concerns the effects of the Agrarian Reform Law of 1969. The reform itself came long after the beginning of the decline in output per capita and the consequences for agricultural productivity and growth were still unclear in the mid 90s. In addition some areas were badly hurt in this period by increased social violence and partial depopulation. The violence worsened from 1988 through 1990, driving people out of farms and whole villages and leaving productive land and equipment idle. In some of the worst-hit areas, production fell by half and it has since recovered very slowly.


Andean soils are determined by the complex interactions between climate, parent material, topography, and biology. In general, Andean soils are relatively young and are subject to erosion by water and winds because of the steep gradients of the land. North of 370 S, the Atacama Desert (in northern Chile), the region is covered with heavily eroded desertic soils that are low in moisture and organic material and high in mineral salts. This soil type, with few differences, extends along the Cordillera Occidental to the north of Peru. From Bolivia to Colombia the soils of the plateau and the east side of the eastern cordilleras show characteristics closely related to altitude. In the Andean páramo embryonic soils black with organic material are found.

At altitudes between 6,000 and 12,000 feet, red, brown, and chernozem soils occur on moderate slopes and on basin floors. In more poorly drained locations, soils with a permeable sandy horizon are relatively fertile; these soils are the most economically important in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. At high elevations soils are thin and stony. On the east side of the eastern cordilleras, descending to the Amazon basin, thin, poorly developed humid soils are subject to considerable erosion. Intrazonal soils (those with weakly developed horizons) include humic clay and solonetz (dark alkaline soils) types found close to lakes and lagoons. For information on Peruvian soils refer to Cochrane et al. (1985) and Schaus (1987).

Peru's Coast is a bleak, often rocky, and mountainous desert that runs from Chile to Ecuador, punctuated by fifty-two small rivers that descend through steep, arid mountains into the Pacific. The Costa is characterized by dunes and although desertic it has periods of humidity as high as 90 percent in the winter from June to September.

For nearly 3 500 km along the western coast of South America [5-30 degrees S], the Peruvian and Atacama deserts form a continuous, hyper arid belt, broken only by occasional river valleys from the Andean Cordillera. Native vegetation of the deserts consists of over 1 200 species, many highly endemic and largely restricted to the fog-zone locations or lomas formations("small hills"). Soils vary between sandy and loamy-sandy, with a very loose structure. Soil chemical fertility for a representative soil in the Arequipa Department is shown in Table 5.

Table 5. Chemical analysis of a representative soil in the Experimental Station Regional del Sur, La Joya, Arequipa (Lab Zeta-Vicor, 1996)

Chemical parameter

0-30 cm

30-60 cm



Organic matter, percent



P2O5, ppm



K2O, meq/100 g



Exchange capacity, meq/100g



CaCO3, ppm



Free CaCO3, percent



The climate varies from dry in the western coastal desert to temperate in highland valleys; harsh, chilly conditions on puna and western Andean slopes; semi-tropical in Montaña; tropical in Selva. Uninhabited areas over 5,500 m. high have arctic climate. The rainy winter season runs from October through April; with dry summer in the remaining months. Figures 2, 3 and 4 summarize climatic conditions for three important agricultural areas: Cajamarca, an interAndean valley; Puno, in the high Andes and Pucallpa in the Amazonian lowlands.

The Andean Region

There are two basic Andean seasons, the rainy winter from October through April and the dry summer in the remaining months.

Figure 2. Rainfall distribution in the valley of Cajamarca, northern Andes of Peru. Mean temperature 15.1 0C; annual rainfall 726 mm

Figure 3. Mean monthly temperature and rainfall in Puno, high Andes of Peru. Mean temperature 9.8 0C; annual rainfall 576 mm.

Figure 4. Mean monthly temperature and rainfall at Pucallpa, Amazon lowlands of Peru. Mean temperature 26.1 C ; annual rainfall 1568 mm

Crops are harvested according to type throughout the year, with potatoes and other native tubers brought in during the middle to late winter and grains in the dry season. In northern Peru the Andean valleys have milder climates than

those of the southern half of the country. In effect, altitudes are less, temperatures are milder and rainfall is slightly more than in the south (Figure 2). At altitudes between 3,400 and 4,200 m, there is a narrow strip of slopes covered by native grasses and forest relicts locally called "jalcas". These formations and the valleys between them lend themselves to more intensive cattle and sheep grazing than in the southern half of the Peruvian Andes. The Departments of Cajamarca, Arequipa, Cusco, Juná¡án and Ancash are important in terms of dairy, beef and sheep production. The best example of this situation is the Cajamarca Department. The upper parts of the Department constitute an important water source used for irrigation of the bottom valley.

Coastal areas

Temperatures along the coast rise near the equator in the north, where the summer can be extremely hot, and fall to cooler levels in the south. The climate is characterized by the total absence of rainfall. Mean temperature is 18.1o C, and a wide range of daily fluctuation between 8 and 30o C. Solar radiation in the southern half of the coastal area is permanently high, with a mean of 8.8 hours, and relatively humidity varies around a mean of 71 percent, between 15 and 91 percent. North to north-eastern winds tend to be strong and potential annual evapotranspiration amounts to 1860 mm.

Amazon region

The climate is typically that of the humid tropical lowlands, with little day-to-day temperature variation and two well defined periods, the rainy and the dry season respectively. Depending upon the location, mean temperature ranges between 25 and 28o C, rainfall varies between 1 500 and 3 000 or more mm per year distributed over a period of 9-11 months (Fig 4, Pucallpa). Relative humidity is almost always in the high 80s or more.

Main agricultural activities are logging, and to a much smaller extent, some cropping (rice, maize, cassava, beans) particularly along the river borders and on river islands that surface during the dry season. Cattle are of very limited and localized importance. In some areas, cattle populations fell significantly in the early 90s as result of guerrilla activities. Plantations of tropical fruits and various other products are developing.


Andean Highlands

Although rich in mineral resources, the Andes are endowed with limited usable agricultural land. Only 4.5 percent of the highlands, or 19,665 square kilometres, is arable and cultivated. Nevertheless, this area constitutes more than half the nation's productive land. About 93,120 square kilometres of the Sierra is natural pasture over 4,000 m. in altitude, too high for agriculture. The 4.5 percent of arable land, therefore, has dense populations. The best areas for cultivation are the valleys, which range from 2,000 to 3,500 m. in altitude. Although many valleys have limited water supplies, others, due to glacial runoff, enjoy abundant water for irrigation. In the protected valleys, the dry climate is temperate, with no frost or extreme heat. In the high plateau or puna regions above 3 939 m, the climate is cold and severe, often going below freezing at night and seldom rising above 160 C by day. Llamas and alpacas are pastured on the native grasses of the punas. Sheep and cattle, when adapted, do well at lesser altitudes but overall, livestock raising is of modest economic importance, although crucial to the survival of the human population and maintenance of soil fertility.

Throughout the Peruvian Andes, cattle, sheep and camelids raising is extremely important to enhance farmer’s income security, as crop production involves high risk in these uncertain and unpredictable environments ( Mosley, 1982). Nevertheless, these livestock systems are inextricably linked to agricultural and cropping lands in complex spatial and temporal patterns, such that both have to be considered in the discussion that follows.

Dairy cattle are raised by small farmers on intensively-managed irrigated lucerne (Medicago sativa), oats, and/or ryegrass-clover (Bernet and Leon Velarde, 2000) grown in the colder valley bottoms. Modest amounts of concentrates are fed to dairy cattle. In contrast, horticultural and other irrigated crops are grown on the slopes exposed to milder temperatures. Natural grazing on the upper slopes is used for extensive beef and sheep breeding.

Over 70 percent of privately owned Andean farms are less than five hectares in size. The adequacy of each small farm and its dispersed chacras (plots of land used for vegetables and subsistence crops) varies with water supply, altitude, soil fertility, and other local factors. The best irrigated farmland in the kichwa valleys tends to be highly subdivided. The largest land holdings are the property of corporate communities, such as the numerous Peasant Communities (Comunidades Campesinas) and Peasant Groups (Grupos Campesinos). In 1991 it was estimated that 5 500 of these communities existed. In 1990 these official forms of common entitlement, as opposed to individual private ownership, accounted for over 60 percent of pasture lands, much of which lies in the Punas of the southern Andes. Above the cultivated land and on the non-irrigated hillsides, cattle and sheep are grazed on communally held open ranges and puna. At the intermediate altitudes grains like wheat, barley, rye, and maize, as well as pulses, such as broad beans, peas, and lentils, are sown along with a wide variety of vegetables, including onions, squashes, carrots, hot peppers, and tomatoes. At even lower levels, tropical fruits and crops are common. Some communities have direct access to all of these production environments, whereas others may be confined to a single zone, thus adding to the complex pattern of land use in the region.

Table 6. Characteristics and carrying capacity of some major ecosystems of the high Andes (Source: Alzérreca, 1985)


Range of mean temperature, oC

Rainfall, mm

Altitude, m

Livestock species, in order of decreasing importance

Carrying capacity of native pastures, ha/AU

Sub-humid Puna





Semi-arid to arid Puna







Semi-arid high Puna






Table 6 provides an estimate of some of the characteristics of the main ecosystems of the Andean region and their carrying capacity. These estimates are derived from Bolivian data (Alzérreca, 1985), a country which shares historical and geographical traits with Perú in the high Andes. Similarly, Table 7 shows the potential yields (Estrada, Paladines and Quiros, 1997) of well-managed and irrigated sown pastures in Puno, Peru at approximately 3,800 metres, but altitude has a major effect on yields and carrying capacity, as shown in Table 8. Nevertheless, it should be remembered as indicated above, that ruminants are moved between rangelands and cropping lands in a variety of patterns depending upon the location, local customs, and market opportunities.

Table 7. Dry matter yields of well managed sown pastures in Puno, Peru. (Modified from Estrada, Paladines and Quiros, 1997).


Dry matter yield, metric t/ha

Lucerne, Medicago sativa


Phalaris sp. + Medicago sativa


Table 8. The effect of altitude on the estimated carrying capacity of sown, irrigated pastures1 (Adapted from McCorkle, 1990)

Type of animal

Altitude (m)

3 800

4 000

4 200









1Pastures comprised Lolium sp. Trifolium sp., Dactylis glomerata + Trifolium sp. or Dactylis glomerata + Medicago sativa. Carrying capacity in sheep units/ha/year and alpaca units/ha/year where a sheep unit equals one (mature) ewe and an alpaca unit is one (mature) alpaca.

The Coastal Region farming and livestock systems

Although the region contains 160,500 square kilometres of land area, only 4 percent, or 6,900 square kilometres of it, is arable, and that part is densely populated and urbanized. By 1990 population growth had increased the density of habitation to 1,715 people for each square kilometre of arable land.

The irrigated coastal valleys are dominated by extensive systems of cooperative plantation agriculture, interspersed with numerous small farms and dairies. Irrigated land is estimated to cover 12,800 sq. km (1993 est.), the large majority of it being located in the Coastal region. The principal crops are sugarcane and cotton, with a mixture of other crops, such as grapes and citrus, also being planted. The use of guano and fish-meal fertilizers is common. As a result, the productive coastal land, amounting to only 3.8 percent of the national total, including pasture and forest, yields a reported 50 percent of the gross agricultural product.

This is the region where the cattle industry, and dairy production in particular, is most important. By 1999, Peru’s production of cow milk amounted to 1,013,263 metric tons (MINAG-DIA, 1999), with 50 percent of that coming from the Departments of Arequipa, Cajamarca and Lima (see Figure 1). In some districts within these departments, close to two thirds of the land area and of the farm families are dedicated to milk production (Bernal 1993). Although Peru’s milk consumption is low by South American standards (65 kg of fresh milk equivalent per capita per year; McBride cited by Bernet et al., 2000), throughout the 90s there has been a consistent trend to increase consumption of milk and dairy products. Close to 80 percent of the cattle are Holstein Friesian, much of them imported in the 80s and 90s from USA, New Zealand, Canada and Germany among others, and with a mean yield of 14.5 litres/milked cow or 11.1 litres/cow (Bernal 1993). Overall, 97 percent of the dairy cattle are Holstein Friesian and Brown Swiss (INEI, 1994). By 2005 total cow milk production had risen to 1,290,000 metric tons, but milk equivalent imports were still substantial (at 187,685 metric tons in 2004) although at much lower levels than earlier in 1995 (when imports were 361,728 metric tons).

The Arequipa Department is the most important milk producer, and is generally considered as representative of the rest. 62 percent of the farmers own less than 3 hectares, representing only 1.5 percent of the agricultural land (Table 9). On average, 44 percent of the livestock owned by farmers are cattle, 29.9 percent are pigs and 27 percent are sheep. As a result of land tenure patterns, 25 percent of the farmers own 3 head of cattle or less, and 50 percent of them operate with 3-9 head.

Table 9. Land tenure in the Department of Arequipa (INEI, 1994)



Surface area





< 3 ha





3-9.9 ha





10-49.9 ha





> 50 ha










Regardless of farm size, irrigated, directly-grazed lucerne (Medicago sativa) constitutes 75 percent of the forage (Bernal, 1993), with the rest being maize (24 percent) and sorghum (1 percent). Characteristic stocking rates on well-managed, well-irrigated lucerne average 4 AU/ha year round. Overall, it has been estimated that there are 120,000 ha of lucerne in Peru, with the following distribution among Departments: Arequipa, 35,000; Lima, 20,000; Ancash and Ayacucho, 15,000 and Tacna, 10,000 (Valdivia, 1996). Local varieties (Yaragua, Tambo, Caraveli) are common and tend to slightly outyield imported varieties such as Moapa, California, and Cuff (Valdivia, 1996). High dry matter yields in well managed, irrigated experiments have frequently been obtained (e.g., 50-60 tons DM/ha/year), but it is uncertain to what extent they represent farm results. Illustrative results for cv. Moapa in Arequipa are shown in Table 10. As the results indicate, year-round, lucerne-based milk production is feasible despite the drop in growth rate which occurs during the (southern) winter. As is typical of lucerne everywhere, nutritive value is high year-round. Local results show in vitro digestibility values of 68-76 percent and crude protein of 23-27 percent (Valdivia, 1996).

Table 10. Experimental monthly yields of irrigated, well-managed lucerne, cv. Moapa, in the Department of Arequipa, means of two years.


Tonnes DM per ha and per month

























Intensive strip grazing is generally practiced with the aid of movable, electric fences. All animal categories, not only milked cows, are subject to this type of management. The possibility of sequential grazing by different animal categories, and/or differential management and feeding strategies for categories of lesser value have apparently not yet been researched.

Forage maize (Zea mays) is the second most important irrigated forage resource in the coastal area of Peru. Local hybrids have been reported to yield 18-24 t DM/ha depending upon the precise location (Ponce, 1996), but the limited on-farm information available suggests that to a large extent, the provision of maize by-products and residues constitute the main form of use of this resource. In effect, Hidalgo (1998) estimated that crop residues constitute 10-20 percent of the concentrate ration offered to cows, with the rest being crop by-products and a smaller proportion of fish meal.

The other major cattle system in parts of the Coastal area is beef fattening in peri-urban feedlots, using mostly crop residues and by-products. Yearlings and young steers are brought in from the Sierra.

Amazonian livestock systems

The Selva, which includes the humid tropics of the Amazon forest and rivers, covers about 63 percent of Peru but contains only about 11 percent of the population. The region begins high in the eastern Andean cloud forests, called the ceja de montaña ("eyebrow of the jungle"), or Montãna or Selva Alta, and descends with important Amazonian rivers such as the Marañon, Huallaga, Apurímac, and Urubamba to the rolling plains of the densely forested humid lowlands. These rivers unite to give rise to the Amazon before reaching the city of Iquitos. Human settlements in the Amazonian region are mostly riverine, since the number of all-weather roads is limited.

As indicated by the type of predominant vegetation, farming systems are dominated by logging activities. Cultivation of coca, a chemical input-intensive type of crop that seriously deteriorates the surrounding environment, is a component of farming systems in isolated regions. These activities co-exist within farms, with cropping patterns known as slash-and-burn agriculture. The slash-and-burn agricultural system predominates in lowland semi-humid areas of the Amazon with altitude < 500 m. above sea level and annual precipitation of around 2 000 mm (Riesco, 1995). Residual forests (from which the most valuable timber has been removed by loggers) are progressively cut down and cultivated with annual and semi-perennial crops for one or two years. Crop fields are then either planted to pasture (more recently, perennial crops have become available) or alternatively, secondary vegetation is allowed to regenerate on fields to restore fertility and control weeds (fertilizer is usually not used).

Other disturbing, more localized, components of land use systems in the region are the exploitation of oil and gas resources, gold mining and occasionally other activities. In this context, ruminant raising and grasslands are of relatively minor importance and tend to be highly concentrated along the few all-weather roads leading to the capital city, Lima. Also, ruminant, largely cattle, populations were decimated during the period of social unrest associated with the Shining Pathway (Sendero Luminoso) guerrilla movement of the 80’s and early 90s and have been very slow to rebuild. The small, unquantified, cattle population of the region tends to be concentrated in dual-purpose production systems. These systems (Vera et al., 1997) use crossbred cows (Bos indicus x Bos taurus) mated to crossbred bulls and sometimes nearly pure Brown Swiss bulls, to produce milk and calves. This is a low input, low management, low risk pasture-based system in which cows are milked once a day, generally in the morning, with the calf on foot to induce milk let-down. After the morning milking, the dam and the calf are released onto pasture until mid-afternoon when all calves are rounded and shut into primitive yards until the following morning. Given the vagaries of the climate in the region, and the unreliability of many of the roads, milking can easily be discontinued for a period of several days if it becomes impossible to transport milk to local markets. Yields of saleable milk typically run between 3 and 5 kg milk/day/cow (once-a-day milking), over extended periods of lactation which may vary anywhere between 200 and nearly 500 days. Male calves are sold at weaning with very variable weaning weights (150-200 kg liveweight), and are generally transported to the coastal areas of the country for fattening.

Pastures are established within the slash-and-burn system, usually after an annual crop such as maize or rice, and sometimes undersown in these crops (Reátegui et al., 1995). In general, soil preparation is mostly manual and minimal, very seldom mechanical, and no fertilizers are applied. Except in estuarine areas, Amazonian soils tend to be ultisols, characterized by low chemical fertility. On-farm analysis of soils in the neighbourhood of Pucallpa (Department of Ucayali) showed that ultisols have low pH (generally < 4.5), high Al content (> 40 percent, and frequently > 70 percent), and low levels of P (7 ppm) and bases ((Loker et al., 1997). Pasture maintenance is limited to periodic hand weeding until, after 4-8 years, secondary vegetation takes over and the area may be temporarily abandoned until a new slash-and-burn period is established. The exception is along paved roads, near towns or other places where land prices are substantially higher, and in which efforts are made to maintain more productive and persistent pastures.

Regardless of location, sown pastures based on Brachiaria decumbens and, to a lesser extent, Brachiaria brizantha, Brachiari humidicola or Brachiaria dictyoneura which have almost totally replaced, in the 90s, the original pastures sown to Hyparrhenia rufa, Panicum maximum and a few others which were common in the 70s and 80s. Typical on-farm carrying capacity of Brachiaria-based pastures averages 1-1.5 AU/ha during the initial 2-3 years, and may decline to 0.5 or less AU/ha following pasture deterioration. Choice of pasture species is severely constrained by seed supply and inherent limitations of the available species and cultivars in terms of soil and biotic adaptation. Peru does not have a significant forage seed industry, and local markets tend to be supplied by Brazilian sources.

Despite many years of research by Peruvian (INIA, IVITA) and international institutions (e.g. the tropical soils project of North Carolina State University, CIAT, ICRAF) adoption of forage legumes has been minimal to date. The two most promising legumes at present are Stylosanthes guianensis cv ‘Pucallpa’, and Arachis pintoi. The former is a short-lived (3-5 years), initially highly productive upright growing forage which has also been successfully used to reclaim abandoned and degraded lands, whereas the latter is a longer-lived creeping and competitive species. Experimental and on-farm results (Vera et al., 1997) have shown that they can support modest improvements in milk production (on average 10-15 percent) and calf weight gains (20-30 percent depending on management).

Other systems, such as sylvopastoral systems combining forage species undersown to a range of tree and fruit trees are still experimental, but in general there are severe economic, ecological and societal constraints to the expansion of cattle systems in the Peruvian Amazon (Holmann, 1999).


As explained above, pastures and rangelands predominate only in the Andean region.

Peruvian Andean rangelands cover approximately 143 000 km2, or 32 percent of the highlands (Flores, 1996), including 120 000 km2 of communal grazing, with the remaining in the hands of small and medium farmers. The Peruvian classification of Andean grasslands is similar to that of Bolivia and recognizes the following plant communities, in decreasing order of importance by area(Flores, 1991, 1996):

  1. Pajonales: it is the community that occupies the largest area; it is characterized by dense stands of low quality, low to moderate palatability grasses, which receive different local names. Important genera are Festuca, Calamagrostis and Stipa, and the most common species are Festuca dolichophylla, Festuca ortophylla, Stipa ichu, Stipa plumosa, Calamagrostis intermedia, Calamagrostis antoniana and Calamagrostis rigida.
  2. Césped de Puna("puna turf"), a type of vegetation somewhat similar to that of the arctic tundra, but less abundant in lichens and mosses. The following genera are of variable relative importance depending upon the precise location: Aciachne, Azorella, Liabum, Nototriche, Opuntia, Perezia, Pycnophyllum and Werneria.
  3. Bofedales (partially equivalent to wetlands): found in permanent or seasonally wet areas, they constitute a valued resource for the dry season. Dominant species include Distichia muscoides, Plantago rigida, Oxychlöe sp. , Calamagrostis. ovata, C. eminens and C. rigesens, accompanied by many other secondary species.
  4. Tolares (shrub-lands): plant communities of arid to semiarid areas, dominated by shrubs of low palatability of 60 to 70 cm height. The main two species are Parastrefia lepidophylla and Diplostephium tacurense. Underneath them and of secondary importance there is a stand composed of species such as Baccharis sp., Pycnophyllum sp. and Margaricarpus sp. with grasses as Festuca dolichophylla and F. orthophylla .
  5. Canllares: a semiarid plant community totally dominated by spiny Rosaceae such as Margyricarpus pinnatus and M. estrictus
  6. Totorales and Juncales: plant communities found along the borders of lakes, dominated by Scirpus californicus and Scirpus mexicanus. These species are more important as thatching materials than as forages.

Dry matter yield of some of these communities can be relatively high. An example for two of the above grassland types is shown in Table 11. Nevertheless, Flores (1996) estimates that at least 60 percent of the rangelands are degraded due to mismanagement and overstocking, to such a degree that actual yields may be far below those listed in Table 11.

Table 11. Seasonal dry matter yields (kg DM/ha) of two important plant communities of the high Andes in Peru. Source: Farfán et al., cited by Flores (1991).

Grassland type


Vegetative growth








1 984

5 330

3 087

1 435






The management practices of these communities are spatially and temporally complex and have evolved over centuries of experience accumulated by indigenous populations. Nevertheless, the main factor determining the extent and intensity of utilization of these various plant communities is the availability of water, especially in the case of sheep and cattle. This aspect then determines how far and how long can cattle and sheep be grazed. Camelids, on the other hand, have lower water requirements and are generally better adapted to the existing nutritional and environmental constraints. Lastly, livestock production systems are related to land tenure system and elevation. The following three systems are recognized (Flores, 1996):

  1. Enterprise community system, generally found above 3 800 m. Generally, sheep, cattle and camelids are raised in decreasing order of importance. Sheep includes Criollo but increasingly, Corriedale, Junin and Merino. Cattle raising is based on Brown Swiss and Simmenthal, as well as crosses with Criollo. Among the camelids, white Alpaca of the Huacaya or Suri breeds are commonest. In general, the system is more market-oriented than the rest, and more inclined to incorporate new technologies.
  2. Non-enterprise communal system: it is constituted by individual families or groups of families that own rangelands which may be intermingled with communal grazing lands used by system (a), and tend to be extensive. Herds are typically composed of mixtures of sheep, cattle, camelids and horses in variable proportions. In the central highlands sheep, cattle and horses predominate, whereas camelids are the main animals in the south. The system uses family labour almost exclusively; women and children are the bulk of the labour force. In general, training and organization is low, as is productivity.
  3. Non-communal family system: systems based on individual ownership of very small pieces of land or minifundia, heavily subsistence-oriented. If crops are feasible, livestock feeding is based on crop residues and grazing on communal pasture. As in the previous case, it uses family labour exclusively.

Many grazing management practices (reviewed by Flores, 1991) have been tried, but they are difficult to implement in view of the complex pattern of land tenure among native and peasant communities briefly described above, with the exception of the market-oriented enterprise community system.

As expected, performance of cattle, sheep and camelids can be substantially improved with the introduction of sown species. Dactylis glomerata, Lolium perenne, Phleum pratense, Medicago sativa and Trifolium spp. have shown good adaptation up to about 4 200 meters above sea level, when soil conditions are appropriate, but as before, these practices may be difficult to implement in communal areas.


Peru’s land resources and its rangelands in particular, face major problems, difficult to solve in view of population pressure on limited agricultural land. The major issues are deforestation along the Andean slopes and consequent erosion, overgrazing of some of slopes on the Costa and Sierra, and significant overall desertification expressed in erosion, loss of biodiversity and decreased agricultural potential.

There has been a long standing discussion on how to reclaim degraded grazing land in the high Andes. In recent years, attention has been focused on the close interaction between the high Andes and the lower altitude areas near them, in terms of population and livestock density, and migration. For example, cattle systems based on irrigated forages in the Coastal areas and the Andean Valleys can be significantly improved (Bernet and León- Velarde, 2000) through improved animal and pasture management, forage conservation and in general, better quality management of the enterprise. If these improvements can be achieved, they may reduce the pressure on the more fragile resources of the Andean slopes. Given the large number of very small farms this is not a slight challenge. Nevertheless, the experience of some NGO’s has shown that native pastures in the high Andes can be successfully reclaimed through a combination of technical solutions, including water and pasture management, and capacity building in terms of training and social organization (DESCO, 1999).

Although a common concern in the popular press, deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon due to logging and ranching pales in significance when compared to the ecological constraints of the Andes. Many experts suggest that sylvopastoral and agrosylvopastoral systems constitute an alternative approach to extensive cattle raising in the humid lowlands. A number of these systems including both leguminous and non-leguminous trees are currently being researched but the potential adoption of these knowledge-intensive systems is still arguable. Nevertheless, the spatial and temporal combination of plantations, crops, forages and livestock in the Peruvian Amazon appears to deserve priority since the region constitutes the major land reserve of the country (see Table 1) and it may experience considerable pressure from migration originating in the Andes.

Lastly, areas sown to irrigated forages along the Coastal region of Peru have problems of water management, drainage and salinity similar to those of other irrigated regions in the world.


Peru’s institutions experienced major difficulties during the 90s due to economic and social constraints. Also, and in parallel to trends observed in neighbouring countries, efforts were made to reduce the size of the public sector and to privatise some of its services. These processes severely affected the national agricultural institute of agricultural research, INIA, which experienced loss of staff and transfer of some of its facilities to other institutions. Nevertheless, INIA continues to be the main government body charged with national-level research responsibilities.

A number of government-financed universities carry out agricultural research, occasionally through specialized institutes such as the Institute of Veterinarian Research for the Andes and Tropical Lowlands, IVITA, which holds a long and distinguished tradition of research in those two ecosystems. Numerous non government organizations are also active in agricultural research and development. Two well known NGO’s are listed below.


Alzérreca, H. (1985). Campos naturales de pastoreo en Bolivia. In Mesa Redonda sobre la Promoción del Manejo de las Praderas Nativas de SudAmérica, O. Paladines, ed.. Santiago, Chile.

Bernal, J. L. (1993). Caracterización de la ganadería lechera del sur. I. Arequipa (Irrigaciones El Cural, La Joya, San Isidro, San Camilo, Yuramayo, Santa Rita, y Majes). Tesis Ing. Zootecnista, Lima Perú. Universidad Agraria La Molina, 99 p..

Bernet, A.T. and León-Velarde, C. (2000).Income effects of fodder and herd management on small-scale milk producers in the northern Peruvian. Livestock Research for Rural Development 12 (3)

Bernet,A.T., Julca, J., Sáenz, J. and Prain, G. (2000). Peri-urban milk production in Peru: Assessing farmers’ decision-making within a changing market. Livestock Research for Rural Development (12) 4, 2000

Cochrane, T.T., L. G. Sánchez, L.G. de Azevedo, J. A. Porras and C. L. Garver. (1985). Land in Tropical America. Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT), Cali, Colombia; Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuaria, Centro de Pesquisa Agropecuaria dos Cerrados (EMBRAPA-CPAC), Planaltina, D.F., Brasil, 5 volumes

DESCO. (1999). Manejo de los recursos naturales en condiciones de puna seca para la crianza de camélidos andinos. Electronic conferece of FIDAMERICA on desertification..

Estrada, R.D., O. Paladines and R. Quiros.(1997). Pobreza y degradación de suelos en los Andes altos. La experiencia de CONDESAN. VII Encuentro Internacional de RIMISP. Impacto ambiental de la pobreza rural, impacto social del deterioro ambiental. El rol de los instrumentos de desarrollo agrícola. (downloaded April 1998)

FAO Databases 2000 (website

FAO Databases 2006 (website

Flores, E. R. (1991). Manejo y utilización de pastizales. In Avances y Perspectivas del Conocimiento de los Camelidos Sud Americanos, S. Fernández-Baca, ed. Santiago, Chile: FAO, pp. 191-212.

Flores, E. R. (1996). Reality, limitations and research needs of the Peruvian livestock sector. In Latin America Livestock Regional Assessment Workshop, San José, Costa Rica. SR-CRSP and IICA. Davis: Small Ruminant CRSP.

Hidalgo, V. (1998).Nutrición y alimentación de vacunos en engorde. Universidad Agraria La Molina, Facultad de Zootecnia, Departamento de Nutrición, Lima, Peru, 117 p.

Holmann, F. (1999). Análisis ex-ante de nuevas alternativas forrajeras en fincas con ganado en sistemas de doble propósito en Perú, Costa Rica y Nicaragua. Pasturas Tropicales 21(2), 2-17.

INEI. (1994). Perfil agropecuario del Departamento de Arequipa. Departamento de Estadística, III Censo Nacional Agropecuario, Lima, Perú, 375 p..

INEI. (1996). Perfil agropecuario del Departamento de Arequipa. Departamento de Estadística, III Censo Nacional Agropecuario, Lima, Perú, 375 p..

Loker, W., R. Vera and K. Reategui. (1997). Pasture performance and sustainability in the Peruvian Amazon: results of long-term on-farm research. Agricultural Systems 55 (3): 385-408..

McCorkle, C.M., ed. (1990). Improving Andean sheep and alpaca production. University of Missouri: Small Ruminant Collaborative Research Support Program.

MINAG-DIA (1999).Ministerio de Agricultura, Oficina de Información Agraria.

Mosley P. (1982). Marketing systems and income distributions: the case of milk producers in highland Peru. Food Research Institute Studies Vol. XVIII, No.3. 275–291.

Ponce, J. (1996). Comparativo de rendimiento de siete variedades de híbridos de maíz para producción de forrajes en condiciones de Santa Rita y San Isidro, Arequipa. Tesis Ing. Agrónomo, Facultad de Ciencias e Ingenierías Biológicas y Químicas. Universidad Católica Santa Maria, Arequipa, Peru, 86 p.

Reátegui, K., R. R. Vera, W. L. Loker and M. Vásquez. (1995). On-farm grass-legume pasture performance in the Peruvian rainforest. Experimental Agriculture 31(2):227-239..

Riesco, A. (1995). Conservacion del bosque Amazonico, una estrategia comun sobre la base de la estabilizacion de la agricultura migratoria y el manejo sostenible del bosque: Proyecto Bosque. PROCITROPICOS, Pucallpa, Peru.

Schaus, R. (1987). El rol de la investigación en pasturas en la amazonia peruana. In La Investigación en Pastos dentro del Contexto Científico y Socioeconómico de los Países, R. R. Vera y C. Seré, eds., p. 463-500. David, Panamá: RIEPT.

Valdivia, P. R. (1996). Comparativo de 25 variedades e híbridos de lucerne en producción de forraje verde y materia seca en seis cortes, bajo condiciones de San Isidro-La Joya. Tesis Ing. Agrónomo, Facultad de Ciencias e Ingenierias Biológicas y Químicas. Universidad Católica Santa María, Peru, 154 p.

Vera, R. R., K. Reategui and W. M. Loker. (1997). Milk and pastures in the frontier: the case of the Peruvian forest margins. Experimental Agriculture 33 (3): 265-274.

Other References

Aramburu, Carlos E. (1985). "Expansion of the Agrarian and Demographic Frontier in the Peruvian Selva." Pages 153-79 in Marianne Schmink and Charles H. Wood (eds.), Frontier Expansion in Amazonia. Gainesville: University of Florida Press,.

Burkholder, Mark A., and Lyman L. Johnson. (1990) Colonial Latin America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Economic Intelligence Unit. (1992). Country Report: Peru, Bolivia [London], No. 1, 1992.

Economic Intelligence Unit. (1992). Country Report: Peru, Bolivia [London], No. 2, 1992.

Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. (1990). Preliminary Overview of the Economy of Latin America and the Caribbean, 1990. Santiago: December 1990.

Morales, Edmundo. (1986). "Coca and Cocaine Economy and Social Change in
  the Andes of Peru," Economic Development and Cultural Change, 35:143-61.

Peru. Instituto Nacional Estadística. (1981). Censos nacionales de VII de población, 1981. Lima:.

Peru. Instituto Nacional Estadística. (1987). Peru: Compendio estadístico. Lima:.

Peru. Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (National Council of
Science and Technology). (1991). Gran atlas geográfico del Perú y el mundo. (Ed. Aníbal Cueva García.) Lima: A.F.A. Editores S.A.,.

Peru. Instituto Nacional de Estadística. (1989). Evolución de la economía peruana. Lima: November.

Peru. Ministerio de Agricultura, Grupo de Análisis de Política Agraria. (1990). Lineamientos de política agraria, 1990-1995.  Lima:.

Poole, D.A. 1987 "Landscapes of Power in a Cattle-Rustling Culture of  Southern Andean Peru," Dialectical Anthropology, 12: 367-98.

Schmink, Marianne, and Charles H. Wood (eds.). 1985 Frontier Expansion in Amazonia. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.


(1) Non government organizations

Centro de Estudios y de Desarrollo Agrario del Perú
(a traditional, highly experienced NGO dedicated to development projects among small farmers)
Diego Ferré 387, Of. D
Lima 18
Phone/fax (51-14) 446150

Benjamín Quijandría, Ph.D., Director (agronomist, with a wide range of experience)
CODESU (NGO that administers a variety of research and development projects)
Ramón Dagnino 369, Of. 204
Lima 18

Alfredo Riesco, Ph.D., Director
(animal scientist and agricultural economist, ample experience in the sector)

(2) University research institute

IVITA (Instituto de Investigaciones Veterinarias Tropicales y de Altura)
(a research institute with long tradition in livestock research in the high Andes and the Amazonian lowlands)

Jirón Daniel A. Carrión 319, Apdo. 245
Phone/fax (51-64) 571092

Miguel Ara, Ph.D.
(soil scientist, experienced with tropical pastures)

(3) Government research institutes

INIA, Instituto National de Investigación Agraria
Jefe del INIA (e)
Sede Central
Lima Av. La Universidad 685 - La Molina
Phones: (51-1)349-5616 349-5949
Fax: (0051-1) 3495964

High Andes experiment station:
        Director de Estación Experimental ILLPA – PUNO
        Carretera Puno-Juliaca Km. 22 - Puno
        Of. Jr. Loreto No. 257 - Juliaca
        Telefax: 054-325663

Camelids research leader:
Med. Vet. Teodosio Huanca Mamani
Irrigated lucerne research:
Ing. MSc Gregorio Argote Quispe
Estación Experimental Baños del Inca


Dr. Raul R. Vera is a former Senior Scientist and Leader of the Tropical Pastures Program,
International Centre of Tropical Agriculture, CIAT, based in Cali, Colombia.
He is currently a private consultant and part-time researcher of the Catholic University in Santiago, Chile.

Raul R. Vera
2 Norte 443 dpto. 52
Viña del Mar, CHILE 2534194
Fax (Chile) 56-2-552 9435

[The profile was prepared in 2000, edited by J.M. Suttie and S.G. Reynolds in January, 2001 and modified by S.G. Reynolds in May 2006]