VILCABAMBA, Peru, 30 October 2002
-- The people of this district in a fertile valley of the
Peruvian Andes have had rough times. After more than a decade of
exile due to armed conflict in the area, many returned to their
land in the 1990s, facing the prospect of starting over from
"The district of
Vilcabamba has very fertile soil," say Francisco Díaz,
Director of CEPRODER (Centro de Promoción y Desarrollo Rural), a
local NGO. "But the valley is hard hit by El Niño,
which brings unusual rain patterns and very cold weather during
the winter. People here are very poor." In 2002, most
of the crops were destroyed by a prolonged freeze, and tonnes of
the potato chuño, the basis of the Andean
diet, rotted while they were being dried.
TeleFood, FAO's campaign to raise awareness and
funds to fight hunger, established a small vegetable garden and
pig-raising project for women in Vilcabamba in 2001 to help
alleviate poverty and fight malnutrition. With the assistance of
CEPRODER, the project operates in four peasant communities:
Vilcabamba, Muyurina, Huancansayhua and Colcabamba. Initially it
is concentrating on 22 families considered among the poorest and
Since the region had not been
cultivated for 14 years, the villagers faced a lot of
preparatory work before they could make use of the seeds, tools
and pigs provided by TeleFood. First, they built terraces on the
steep slopes, just as their ancestors did in Inca times.
CEPRODER then trained all the participating women in cultivating
their land, producing fertilizer from worms and crop residues,
and taking care of small farm animals. Very soon, the first
vegetables started growing, bringing a great feeling of
satisfaction and accomplishment to the participants.
The gardens are well kept and green, and some include
flowers and fruit trees. Most have a small parcel destined to
grow medicinal plants and aromatic herbs. During a recent tour
of the gardens, local resident Pedro Bravo played his flute for
the visitors, the same lilting songs he plays for his fellow
villagers as they work the soil.
"Before, we didn't know how to cultivate
our land," says Felicitas Arsega. "Now, we
know how to grow vegetables, how to transplant them and how to
make our own fertilizers."
"Our products are 100 percent natural,
without an ounce of chemicals," adds Nelly Vargas,
coordinator of the local committee for the TeleFood project.
"And so far, no diseases! Look at these lettuce, how
beautiful they are!"
morning at 5 a.m. a bus leaves for Chuquibambilla, a town about
a half hour drive away, where the villagers sells their
products. The modest revenue allows them to buy the basics:
sugar, oil, bread and rice, and sometimes medicines for their
What started as a women's
project has become a household project. Women take care of the
plants and men prepare the land, build terraces and prepare
fertilizers. The children, busy with school and homework, help
out only when they're done studying -- a source of pride
for parents who see education as key to a better future. Every
family member takes pride in their garden. "Little by
little, we're improving our lives," says Honorata
For those raising pigs, there is more
investment of time and money, especially for feed, but the
results are also very encouraging. Edith Alvarez's sow,
Jacinta, is expecting piglets soon. To Ms Alvarez's
relief, Jacinta's belly has grown so big that she can no
longer jump the little wall of her pen -- so finally she has
stopped escaping into the village.
Contreras is also very excited about her sow's upcoming
delivery. She knows she will have to give back two piglets, one
male and one female, to the project's rotating fund so that
another family can also benefit, but she will still be able to
sell some of the animals and invest her money. "I want
to buy more small farm animalswith the money,and food and
clothes for my children," she says. "I want to
be able to buy them books and pencils for school. It's a
good investment for the future."
Isabel Ferrel's family has future growth in mind
- they have already started investing. They sold their boar soon
after the sow got pregnant and bought twelve chickens. Now they
can sell eggs at the market as well.
family also has a little piece of land to grow vegetables.
Everyone raises alfalfa, to feed their pigs or to sell as feed.
"We want to grow more fruits and vegetables and
diversify our production," says Mr Bravo, pausing
between tunes on his flute. "We would like to start
making by-products such as marmalade and juices, so that we can
sell them at higher prices. We would like to export more and
Vilcabamba still does
not exist on the map, even the regional one -- but the villagers
are eager to put it there with the results of their hard work.
Between the fertility of the valley, the commitment of the
community and the help from TeleFood, they should be able to
succeed and serve as an inspiration for others like