Civil Society Strategy to Fight Soil Degradation in Peru
Case Study #8-1 of the Program: ''Food Policy For Developing Countries: The Role Of Government In The Global Food System''
Soil degradation, a process that reduces the potential of land to support animal and plant production, has become one of the most pressing problems for farmers worldwide (Scherr 1999). Based on the opinions of 250 international experts, the United Nations Global Land Assessment of Degradation concluded as early as 1992 that degradation had caused a 38 percent loss in global agricultural land since the 1940s (Oldeman et al. 1992). This soil loss, at a rate of 5 to 10 million hectares per year, has multiple causes, including nutrient and vegetative depletion, agrochemical pollution, deforestation, and soil erosion due to severe floods, wind, and steep hillside farming (Scherr and Yadav 1996). Despite dire forecasts, Dregne and Chou (1992) estimated that reduced soil quality would not threaten the balance of international food supply in the near decades. What warrants close scrutiny, however, is the regional impact of these changes, particularly in hot spots where degradation may be reversible only through costly on-farm investments or engineering strategies, if at all (Scherr and Yadav 1996). Drylands alone are 70 percent degraded, affecting nearly 2 billion people (FAO 2002). Regionally, Latin America has the highest proportion of degraded agricultural land in the world, followed by Africa (Scherr and Yadav 1996). Peru's north coast, the focus of this case study, is threatened most by salinization, a process that can cause irreversible desert-like conditions (UNEP 1992). With salinization now affecting up to 40 percent of cropland on the north coast (Collado 2001), the situation could have national repercussions. Although the coastal valleys make up only 3.8 percent of Peruvian agricultural land, including pasture and forest, they yield 50 percent of Peru's gross agricultural product (Vera 2006). Despite a history of intensive agriculture on the north coast that extends back to 200 C.E. (Nordt et al. 2004), it appears that recent changes—irrigation practices, rice-focused production, and limited opportunities to invest in or build the capacity for soil conservation— have exacerbated the susceptibility of soil in the region to salinization. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), World Bank, and United Nations all agree that soil conditions may improve most through community initiatives that increase productivity sustainably while improving the economies of poor households dependent on agriculture (Dixon et al. 2001; UNCCD 2005). One program implemented in the Peruvian coastal department of Piura by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Heifer Project International (HPI) appears to have had success. HPI's key strategies focused on participatory planning and management with leaders of local irrigation commissions, training in eco-agriculture practices, and rotating funds for small-scale livestock and seeds for alternative crops. After three years, the project expanded from 20 households to 689, and farmers reported reduced salinization, lower input costs, and increased production and income. Despite HPI's apparent success, some development theorists question whether local impacts like this can last or how valuable they are to broader systems without scaling up. Considering the wider policy environment presented here, your assignment is to determine the next steps you would take if you were directing HPI in Peru. Who would you target, how, and why? Should HPI continue working exclusively with farmers, or should your organization try to partner with or influence other civil society actors, policy makers, agrochemical companies, or credit agencies? Ultimately, where is your comparative advantage as an institution, and what are the risks of attempting to target certain actions and ignoring others?
12 pp.©Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. All rights reserved. This case study may be reproduced for educational purposes without express permission but must include acknowledgment to Cornell University. No commercial use is permitted without permission.
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Previously Published As
Lesli Hoey (2007). Case Study #8-1, ''Civil Society Strategy to Fight Soil Degradation in Peru''. In: Per Pinstrup-Andersen and Fuzhi Cheng (editors), ''Food Policy for Developing Countries: Case Studies.''12 pp.