MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, 28 January 2007
Huaral is a coastal valley in Peru with a desert climate where it never rains. It is also the name of an initiative that CEPES, APC member in Peru, is carrying out in the region. And above all, it is proof that the creative use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) can improve the lives of farmers in an entire region, if not beyond. APCNews spoke to Maicu Alvarado of CEPES in December 2006 at the Latin American APC members’ meeting about the latest news on this rural development work which has now been underway for six years.
Farmers in Huaral need information to make decisions that will affect the success of their crops and marketing. This was how the Agrarian Information System (SIA-Sistema de Información Agraria) was born: a decentralised structure to collect and organise data using the latest technologies. To begin with, a wireless network with internet access was set up, along with telecentres which were soon full of young small-holders.
In search of interactivity
Now a new phase has begun: “We are going to use mechanisms that allow for more interactivity among farmers who are not necessarily going to the telecentres for information,” Maicu explained. Some portable terminals will be added, also with wireless connections, to be given to the sector administrators, or sectoristas. “They are in constant contact with the farmers. They will ask questions about planting, crops, prices, production and also provide information.”
“If the farmer being interviewed also needs information about his crops or any particular activity the sectorista will be able to say: As a cotton farmer you should know that there is a seminar on cotton at the Ministry of Agriculture, or, these are the market prices right now.”
Who are the sectoristas? They are traditional figures in the arable desert zones of Peru, who distribute water by sectors. They belong to the Board of Irrigation Users of Huaral, an area covering 20,000 hectares. Maicu continued, “Since it doesn’t rain on the coast, these organisations are very strong because they administer irrigation water, which is the only water resource”.
The latest technology utilises and reinforces methods of work and organisation as traditional as they are fundamental. It is a true example of social appropriation of ICTs where the communities are the protagonists.
Yacu, software that irrigates
This view also applies to the software. Maicu talked about Yacu (“water” in Quechua), developed with the Board of Irrigation Users of Huaral using free and open source software tools. “It is software that allows us to monitor crops in the valley and improve administration of irrigation water distribution,” he explained. It has a database that organises the information produced by the farmers themselves.
“It has enjoyed a high degree of appropriation among them. They believe that Yacu is what they needed, are thrilled with this development and have shown it to similar organisations in fifteen valleys in Peru which are interested in having something like it,” he added.
From information to association
According to Maicu, the ultimate goal of the project is “greater participation by the farmers in markets, in marketing processes… That they may produce more and sell better, in order to earn more.” More than just strategic management, they hope the collectivisation of information will result in the strengthening of associations, in order to work on an economy of scale.
“In Peru, 80% of agriculture is small-scale agriculture. We had very bad experiences with associations in the period after the agrarian reform, when agricultural cooperatives failed. There is a great deal of fear about this type of work,” he noted, leaving this issue as a challenge still pending.
It is often hard to see the relationship between information and communication technologies and development. What CEPES has been doing in a sustainable way for many years in Huaral could not be a clearer example.