Indigenous Communities and The Mountain Institute Awarded St Andrews Prize for the Environment

The Mountain Institute, Peru has won a major award for an innovative project to help mountain communities adapt to the complete loss of glaciers. The 2018 St Andrews Prize for the Environment was awarded on April 26 at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. The project successfully integrates indigenous knowledge from the highlands of Peru with modern technology to help local communities.

The Mountain Institute, Peru received the 2018 St Andrews Prize for the Environment (Source: St Andrews Prize for the Environment).

The prize was set up in 1998 and is managed and awarded by a panel of trustees with varying backgrounds and expertise. Individuals and teams from across the world submit applications for the Prize, which has gained international recognition. It comes with a cash prize of $100,000, which The Mountain Institute, Peru plans to use to expand its cooperation with communities in the Andes.

The project began in 2013 to assist communities in the Nor Yauyos-Cochas Landscape Reserve, about 200 kilometers east of Lima, affected by water scarcity. It illuminates the issue of glacial retreat, an increasingly prominent issue for mountain communities in the reserve, which sits 2,500 to 5,700 meters above sea level. The Andes lost 48 percent of its glacial ice since 1975. Many of the smaller glaciers have completely vanished, exposing desolate rocks and creating hardships for those that depend on glaciers for their water supply. The project’s solution captures rainwater with pre-Inca water management systems that have revived the local ecosystem and recharged aquifers.

The prize, given by the University of St Andrews in Scotland and sponsored by the oil and gas company ConocoPhillips, seeks to recognize initiatives that promote positive impacts on the environment and communities. Lord Alec Broers, chair of the St Andrews Prize for the Environment Trustees, called the project “exciting and different” in a statement, referring to its bottom-up approach.

The Nor Yauyos-Cochas Landscape Reserve features the puna landscape (Source: The Mountain Institute).

The partnerships with indigenous groups allowed communities to co-design the revitalization with The Mountain Institute, Peru. Ancient water regulating systems, such as reservoirs and irrigation canals, were reinstated. They date as far back as 1000 A.D. The hydraulic system, which had not been used continuously for five centuries, was abandoned after the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. Only now are they being recreated to harnesses the natural resilience of the puna ecosystem, which is comprised of wetlands, peatlands, and grasslands.

The project’s staff indicate that the increased soil and groundwater storage has led to gains in livestock productivity, greater food security, economic benefits, and improved richness and abundance of biodiversity. The result is a healthy puna ecosystem and surrounding community that is more resilient to climate change.

Local farmers from Nor Yauyos-Cochas working to restore their ancient water management system (Source: The Mountain Institute).

In his comments at the award ceremony, Jorge Recharte Bullard, director of the Andean Programme of The Mountain Institute, Peru, said the award is “recognition to the urgency to find solutions that, rooted in local cultures, secure mountain peoples’ water and livelihoods.”

“The communities there are dynamic, full of initiatives, and aware of their role in the stewardship of their environmental resources,” added Enrique Mayer, a professor emeritus of anthropology at Yale University who conducted fieldwork in the region. “All solutions have a local dimension first and a wider science accumulation of knowledge and expectations afterward,” he told GlacierHub.

The initiative is part of a larger project throughout the Peruvian Andes by the Mountain Institute, Peru, which also won the 2017 Solution Search “Farming for Biodiversity” contest in the “water impact” category. The Mountain Institute has worked for many years in the high Andes, and “deserves the prize and all the applause one can give it,” Mayer said.

For an earlier report on this project, before it received the St Andrews Prize, see this link.

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