Previous Page Table Of ContentsNext Page

Chapter 1 - Farming Communities in the Cuzco Uplands: Socio-Economic and Organizational Characteristics

In the uplands around Cuzco, 3,300 to 4,000 meters above sea level lie the villages of Ccorao, Ccollana-Chequerec and Equecco-Chacán. At various times during the 1960s these communities began communal eucalyptus plantations as part of the Peruvian government's Communal Reforestation Programme. The plantations that started during this time continue to be important for these communities. To understand the significance of the Programme to the communities in question, a broad overview of the socio-economic structures, land use, tenure patterns, work practices and communal governing bodies is required.

The communities of Ccorao, Ccollana-Chequerec and Equecco-Chacán occupy a middle-level economic status relative to other communities in the area. Households that own between 1 and 2.5 ha of land comprise a large proportion of the population. Differences in households' economic status have always existed, however, they appear to have increased recently and have influenced the course of development in these villages.

Variations in family resources have led to diverse household survival strategies. "Rich" families (those owning more than 2.5 ha of land) produce for their own consumption and diversify their income-generating activities toward trade. "Middle-level" families show similar patterns, though to a lesser extent. Poor families who own less than 1 ha of land, supplement their incomes largely through wage labour.

Work practices

It is against this socio-economic profile that traditional work practices have been maintained and new practices have emerged. Reciprocal provision of labour and communal work have a strong tradition in the area. Ayni, or reciprocal work, consists of favours that families do for each other. They are approximately equivalent in terms of time and kind of activity. Faena is the name for free labour that community members give their communities when needed for projects like the cultivation of communal lands and cleaning of irrigation ditches. Minka refers to free work done by community members primarily for the benefit of widows and invalids.

With the concentration of land and other resources in the hands of large land owners, other "group work" patterns of labour management have emerged. Often, poor community members work in groups on their own lands on a reciprocal basis or the lands of hacienda owners in exchange for various forms of assistance such as fertiliser, seed or access to more land. Some workers receive a pre-set share of the crops according to how much work they contribute. Recently, "salaried" or "wage labour" has become a common work practice.

Despite the emergence of new labour patterns, traditional work practices remain important. In some communities, especially where there is a high proportion of households of middle-level economic standing with privately owned land, reciprocal work relationships (ayni) are still more common than wage labour. As these middle-level households secure enough land to sustain themselves, most use family members as their source of labour. Where individual households cannot fill their labour needs on their own, they work with other families on a reciprocal basis. Thus, both the availability and the opportunity for wage labour become limited. Only poorer occupants of a village are attracted to wage labour.

Faenas continue to be important as economic development and improvements in living conditions create demands that cannot be satisfied on an individual or family basis. Community labour is required to build irrigation canals, bridges, roads and other public works. It is important to note that community members participate in the faena system largely because of the perceived benefits, and not because it is "obligatory". For example, a household with school age children would perceive there to be direct benefits from building a village school; that family would be likely to help with construction.

Other benefits that may derive from participation in the faena system include; the right to help determine how communal lands or other community resources are distributed; and, the right to share in the proceeds of a community project. Such benefits are weighed against the costs any given activity will incur for a household. Among poor households in particular, where a community development project reduces the amount of public lands that they have access to, costs may well outweigh benefits.

Land use

Perhaps more than any other factor, scarcity of land for small farmers in the upland communities around Cuzco has shaped the development of local land use patterns. Much of the land in the area is unsuitable for farming. Additionally a long history of unequal distribution of arable land has left hacienda owners and larger farms with an expansive resource base on which to produce profitable cash crops for the market while small farmers have depended for their survival on scarce and increasingly over-worked plots of arable land. These poorer farmers have had little opportunity to experiment with cash crops. The land available to them has been planted predominately with essential food crops. Progressively, more marginal upland areas and land traditionally set aside for alternative uses, such as grazing, has been converted to farmland. This threatens to exacerbate the problems of land degradation and household impoverishment.

As might be expected, the scarcity of land has profoundly influenced patterns of land tenure. Communal land ownership has had a long traditional in the region. In the past each village reserved significant tracts of public land for the benefit of all community members. Arable public land was usually tilled using labour provided through the faena system. Communal pasture was open to all villagers with livestock. A community-managed fallow system called entrada existed whereby fallow land was continually rotated to regenerate the soil and allow for the collection of cattle dung and native shrubbery for fuel material. Entrada plots, when temporarily released from fallow, were assigned to individual households for agricultural use according to collective community agreement.

Land tenure

In recent decades traditional patterns of land use have undergone some marked changes. As local farmers have lost competing land claims with large land owners, access to arable land has become extremely critical. It has become increasingly difficult to keep large tracts of public land set aside for general use. By 1987, only Ccorao had small pieces of farmland that were still tilled communally through the faena system. Entrada fallow systems have continued to be common in all communities.

An important feature of the subdivision of community farmland, was that once assigned to individual families, the land was regarded as private property that could be passed down from generation to generation within a family. This ownership allowed families to sell land parcels to buyers offering cash payment. In many cases, these buyers were people from outside the community who became absentee land owners.

Agrarian reform

In 1969, the Peruvian government undertook national Agrarian Reform. It was intended to distribute farmland more equitably throughout the country and resulted in the break-up of the haciendas' exclusive control over much of the region's land resources. As a kind of antidote to large land ownership of previous years, and to strengthen old traditions of communal land use, the Peruvian government tried to require communal ownership and management as a condition for the distribution of Reform lands to individual farming communities. Initially at least, beneficiary communities had to agree to cultivate the Reform lands they received on a communal basis, adding to the stock of public land available to the farming communities.

The Reform was often seen by local inhabitants as the top-down imposition of communal management schemes. Despite the government's intentions, the long history of acute land scarcity in the region led to pressure from within the communities to subdivide the new public lands. Resistance to communal management often doomed communal efforts to failure from the start. This failure, in turn, reinforced a general community preference for individual ownership.

Community organizations

Communities have of course been the key participants in development of local
land use and tenure patterns. Decision-making authority over affairs affecting
the community has traditionally rested with indigenous village governing bodies and community general assemblies. These organizations have comprised the forum where proposals about how to use public resources have been considered, adjusted, adopted, or rejected.

Local governments have been essentially democratic with all households that are "active" members of the community enjoying an equal right to representation and participation in decision-making. Community membership is generally recognised for all those who have been born in or have married into the village, are registered with the village office, and are generally accepted by the community as full members. A distinction is made however, between "active" participants in community life and those who are simply "registered" citizens.

"Active" citizens are those who fulfil all community services, i.e., by providing faena labour when called upon. These citizens have a full voice in the village assembly, are eligible to be elected to local government, and have full access to all community resources like land and water as well as any profits that may be derived from these resources. Community members who are simply registered but not "active" have none of these rights until they start participating more actively. There are also those who live in the area but are not officially registered in the village office. They are generally not recognized as community members and have no say in how village affairs are run.

It is usually the male heads of an "active" household who are registered as community members. When married couples are still living in the parent household, the male partner represents the couple in the village records. Widows whose households are "active" community participants may be registered, together with those "active" women whose husbands migrate from the village to obtain work.

All registered and "active" male community members are eligible to be members of the village General Assembly, which in turn elects leaders and makes decisions on village business. As a rule, women cannot be elected community leaders and they have little official say in the village government. They can and do however, express their opinions to the male heads of their households, pressuring them to represent their views in the General Assemblies.

Community organizations like the General Assembly generally serve several functions: to negotiate community interests against external claims (i.e., by neighbouring haciendas or communities over water, land and other resources); to decide how community resources will be managed and how the costs and benefits will be distributed throughout the community; and, to obtain necessary technical and financial assistance from external sources for the community as a whole.

The strongest community organizations are those that are best able to fulfil these various functions. A variety of factors determine the organizational strength within a community. Active participation by as many community members as possible is often thought to be a key factor. Yet, paradoxically, fieldwork for the following case-studies showed that participation was not necessarily synonymous with strong village organizations.

In many communities, for a variety of reasons, not all members always participate in Village Assemblies. This can affect a community in a variety of ways. Sometimes, when certain community members choose not to participate in a particular decision-making process, Village Assemblies are better able to avoid the arduous process of conflict resolution and can quickly ratify agreements on community resource use. In other cases, however, de facto non-representation in decision-making leads to problems. While projects may be approved by a decisive assembly, their design may serve the interests of only a few within the community. Such projects face stiff opposition from those who were not involved in initial decision-making, often leading the village to abandon the project.

Previous PageTop Of PageNext Page