A Minority of Peruvian Mountain Farmers Benefit From Government Pandemic Programs

The Covid-19 pandemic created a great threat for rose growers in the Peruvian valley of the Callejón de Huaylas in the region of Ancash. Glacier meltwater from the Cordillera Blanca supports irrigation systems in this valley, permitting a long growing season for roses as well as a number of food crops. A rapid response of the government brought relief to some of the growers, principally the larger ones, with greater investments and stronger ties to government agencies and national banks. The smaller growers, whose economic and social ties are centered on local communities, were unable to benefit. 

In late April, the agricultural enterprises in this region and throughout Peru that grow flowers for sale for the domestic and international markets faced what they termed a “terrible crisis” and a “catastrophic” situation. The Covid-19 pandemic menaced Peru, and the numerous deaths in neighboring Ecuador made the risks evident. On 15 March, the president, Martin Vizcarra, announced a quarantine of 15 days, which has since been extended to 24 May, though with the lifting of some restrictions in the regions which are less affected.

Roses from highland Peru, prepared for market (Source: SENASA)

Sales on Mother’s Day—celebrated in Peru on the second Sunday in May, as in the United States, the country where the holiday originated—account for half of the business of Peru’s flower growers, so the prospect of losing this portion of the business created deep concern. The losses could total 20,000 tons of flowers, worth 15 million Peruvian soles, or 4.4 million US dollars. The domestic market is particularly important at present, because flower exports from Peru fell by more than two-thirds in March. María Teresa Oré, a sociologist specializing in water governance at the Catholic University of Peru, told GlacierHub that flower production in Peru has two major sectors, with large-scale export enterprises oriented towards the international market centered on the desert coast, and small- and medium-scale enterprises, largely oriented towards the national market, in the highlands. She added that the highland production is more sustainable because it draws irrigation water from surface sources rather than from  overexploited groundwater basins on which coastal growers depend/

On Friday 1 May, Jorge Montenegro, the Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation in Peru, announced a formal resolution, which lifted the restrictions on travel and commerce for the production, transport and sale of flowers and ornamental plants. The resolution declares these activities to be “essential” to the nation. It emphasized that this measure favors “small producers,” many of them “family enterprises.” He noted that flower production is an “activity which generates permanent employment in rural areas.” 

Government extension agent inspecting rose bushes in Ancash (Source: SENASA)

This announcement, presented in advance of Mother’s Day Sunday 10 May, contains a number of limits. It applies only to formal enterprises, registered with the government, and the retail sale is restricted to home delivery. It specifically excludes street vendors (ambulantes) from participation in sales, and indicates that the strict sanitary guidelines had to be followed at all stages from flower production to final delivery. 

The government stated that these steps would protect producers and consumers from the threat of infection. However, these steps also favor the larger producers (60 percent of the highland flower growers are informal enterprises), and many flower distributors are unable to provide home delivery. Montenegro estimated that this measure would allow about 3,000 of Peru’s flower growers—a bit under 30 percent of the country’s growers, over 10,000 in number—to sell their products.

Roses have been the most popular flower for Mother’s Day in Peru since the expansion of the holiday in Peru in the 1920s, though others, including gladioli, are also widely appreciated. The cultivation of roses has been expanding in areas irrigated by glacier meltwater, including the provinces of Huaraz and Carhuaz in Ancash, where a number of the high peaks of the Cordillera Blanca are located. This loss of Mother’s Day sales impacted them severely. 

The flower sector in Peru anticipated a quick recovery following the government declaration. The wholesale market in Lima showed increased levels of activity on Tuesday 5 May, Wednesday 6 May and Thursday 7 May, with purchasers from regional towns throughout Peru coming to purchase supplies, which they brought back for sale in advance of Mother’s Day Sunday 10 May. There were some reports of sales of roses throughout the country, including in Juliaca, a major town in the altiplano near the Bolivian border, and Tacna, a coastal town near Chile, on 9 May. Oré told GlacierHub that sales were much reduced in Lima. She added that she had spoken with Juan Guarniz, a lawyer for the National League of Irrigation Districts, He told her that “despite the resolution which permitted the sale of flowers,”  the small rose growers in Ancash “faced large losses” because “the demand in cities was minimal.” This limited demand could reflect the economic downturn in Peru because of the pandemic, and the high cost of home-delivered flowers.

A rose farmer in Ancash explains the rose cultivation process (Source: MIDIS Foncodes)

Roses were scarce, though not entirely absent, in Huaraz. Jesůs Gómez López, the director of glacier research at INAIGEM, an environmental institute in Huaraz, told GlacierHub that he saw no roses or other flowers being sold, or given as gifts, in Huaraz for Mother’s Day. He explained, “The movement of goods between provinces is restricted in the whole country. Only the transport of foodstuffs is allowed.” Ana Marlene Rosario, an environmental engineer in Huaraz, told GlacierHub that she and her family missed having roses on Mother’s Day. She added that her sister saw some roses at the main market, though in much smaller quantity than in previous years; they were only available for home delivery, at higher prices than usual. 

An account in the Peruvian press explained how the government-authorized sale of flowers played out for rose growers in the Callejón de Huaylas. The ones who took part, located in the communities of Wiñac, Copa Grande y Wiash in the district of Marcará, were all participants in a government program, Haku Wiñay, which in turn is sponsored by a government agency, FONCODES, the Cooperative Fund for Social Development. Though this project was designed to lift rural families from poverty and extreme poverty by instilling a spirit of entrepreneurship, the program for rose growers has a number of barriers to entry, which fall heavily on the poorest households. The application process for acceptance, for example, requires the presentation of a competitive business plan that required significant skills in Spanish and budgeting. The benefits of the program are distributed unevenly as well, giving the participating farmers, though not their workers, access to loans for greenhouse construction and to technical training. Though the successful farms expand local wage employment, they retain a large share of the profits, exacerbating inequality within the communities. 

The town of Marcará (Source: Angel Camor/Flickr)

When the resolution on 1 May created opportunities to market roses from Ancash in Lima, these larger growers possessed a number of advantages over smaller growers, beyond simple economies of scale, or higher-quality roses, which allowed them to take advantage of this opening. They could more readily document the status as a formal enterprise. They had capital reserves to supply their workers with the masks, gloves and hand sanitizer that were required to meet the stringent sanitary standards. Their contacts with FONCODES staff, including an agronomist in Marcará and an economist in Huaraz, could provide them with advice and support as well. Though their sales to Lima for Mother’s Day  increased revenue to Ancash, and expanded wages for many in early May, this windfall for the largest entrepreneurial farmers in these communities does not match with FONCODES’ stated orientation towards creating employment for the poor and the extremely poor employment, or with the declared emphasis on “small producers.” 

Oré explained to GlacierHub that this inequality builds on a long history of government policies in Peru which favor large-scale capitalized agricultural enterprises, despite the important contributions of small farms to food security and livelihoods. She noted the efforts in recent years of the National League of Irrigation Districts and the Peruvian National Agricultural Convention to achieve greater access to credit for small farms, as well as changes in trade and water policies that would distribute benefits more evenly. 

Barbara Fraser, a Lima-based journalist with long experience in Peru, described similar effects of government policies during the pandemic in Matucana, a small highland district close to Lima, where glacial meltwater, from Pariacaca, also contributes to streamflow and irrigation supplies. She writes:

“I’ve been watching how my organic farming friends up near Matucana have been dealing with it [the pandemic]. They are small producers – they were basically subsistence farmers when I met them about 20 years ago – and they seem to be successfully shifting to home delivery. It wasn’t easy, though – they can only bring products to the edge of the city in their truck, so they needed to team up with someone who had a car and a permit to drive in Metropolitan Lima during the lockdown. They managed – they found a relative, or a relative of a friend, or a friend of a relative, I can’t remember which – and are now taking orders by WhatsApp, making home deliveries and taking payments by bank transfer to the daughter’s account.” 

In both this case and the rose growers in Ancash, these products reach households of middle to high incomes in Lima, whether those who are willing to pay a premium for local organic produce, or those who can afford home delivery of roses from established flower shops, more expensive than the local open-air markets. In this way, the regulations favor wealthier consumers, much as they support larger, more capitalized producers.  

Fraser offered more general thoughts as well.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a harsh light on the disadvantages faced by small agricultural producers, especially in transporting their products to market. It has been easier for large vehicles to get permits to travel to Lima, and small farmers, who rely on smaller vehicles, have had trouble getting their products from the fields to urban markets. Home delivery adds another hurdle, because trucks generally can only travel as far as wholesale markets, so growers must link up with drivers who have smaller vehicles and permits to drive in Lima during the lockdown.”

Martin Scurrah, a sociologist based in Lima, with extensive NGO experience, addressed these issues from a policy perspective. In an email exchange, he told GlacierHub, “the rules governing the procedures to be followed by companies as they resume operating are heavily weighted towards protecting the workers and consumers from possible contagion and for promoting permanent employment with formal contracts, rather than the gig economy.” The rules governing flowers parallel those for foodstuffs, he noted, and added that these new rules build on earlier restrictions on the informal economy, citing the management of public markets as an example. 

Scurrah offered a look forward:

“This is clearly positive from the perspective of defending workers’ and consumers’ rights. However, [the rules] will probably involve increased costs and more complex work procedures, which the larger, more formal enterprises will be in a better condition to undertake, possibly squeezing out the smaller, informal operators. There is clearly a trade-off here between promoting a formal economy with greater protection for rights versus an informal economy generating more employment and less concentrated wealth and income.” 

Ancash farmers prepare a bouquet of freshly harvested roses (Source: MIDIS Foncodes)

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to take a heavy toll in Peru, particularly in the coast and the eastern lowlands, though Ancash has the highest number of cases of the highland regions. The number of infections is increasing; on 6 May, Jorge Montenegro, the Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, tested positive for the coronavirus, and began a program of social isolation. The government extended the strict quarantine to 24 May, with a gradual reopening of some economic sectors, such as mining and fishing. 

The long-term outcome remains unclear. As Scurrah stated, “The way this plays out will decide whether Peru returns to the previous situation of a largely informal economy with few guarantees or protection of rights or a ‘new normal’ of greater government regulation, more protections and more open unemployment.” The case of the rose growers, where a small group of wealthy and privileged farmers garner a large share of the benefits of public programs at a time of emergency that affects all Peruvians, points toward the latter.

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Indigenous Activist Among Those Killed In Iran’s Takedown of Civilian Airliner

For centuries the Qashqai people of Iran have been stewards of the pastures and forests of their mountain homelands. Last week, researcher and PhD student Ghanimat Azhdari, a global steward of Qashqai culture as well as mountains, perished when Iranian security forces mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian International Airlines jetliner, killing all 176 people on board. The accident occurred during the most recent period of military provocation between Iran and the United States.

The Qashqai are an Indigenous group of nomadic pastoralists in southwestern and central Iran that tend to herds of goats and sheep. Born the daughter of a local Qashqai leader, Ghanimat Azhdari was a PhD student at Canada’s Guelph University, where she worked on using satellite imagery to map Indigenous cultural sites. She hoped this would foster bottom-up conservation efforts centered on Indigenous knowledge and support. She was 36 years old.

Ghanimat Azhdari, in a dress sewn by her mother, at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity summit in Egypt in November, 2018. She was killed on January 8, 2020 when Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 was shot down over Iran. (Credit: ICCA Consortium)

“She was always smiling, often buoyant, and with quite a contagious enthusiasm,” Marc Foggin, a Canadian conservation biologist, told GlacierHub. Foggin works with local communities in Kyrgyzstan and was a friend and colleague of Azhdari’s.

“Sometimes she might have felt the weight of the magnitude of some of the challenges faced,” he said, “yet her optimism always seemed to prevail. She regularly brought hope and joy to the room.”

The Qashqai people that Azhdari was a part of are of Turkic origin and––with numbers around 900,000––represent one of the largest surviving groups of nomadic people left in the world. The number of them that remain wholly nomadic, however, is readily shrinking. Many have become totally or partially sedentary as available pastureland becomes developed or degraded, and as their youth move to cities in search of a more modern way of life. Those that do still live traditionally—mostly in southwestern Iran—tend their flocks of goats and sheep at low altitudes by the Persian Gulf during winter, and high altitudes amongst the sparse glaciers of the Zagros Mountains during summer, nearly 300 miles away.

The health of the land, and the ability to travel upon it unimpeded, is thus central to the Qashqai’s very existence. This is what fueled Azhdari’s work to conserve landscapes and preserve Indigenous cultures all over the world. To her, the two were synonymous.

One of her biggest efforts was satellite mapping Indigenous areas around Iran. Much of this work she did through an organization known as the ICCA Consortium, which promotes bottom-up conservation and stewardship of Indigenous lands. The term “ICCA” is an abbreviation for “territories and areas conserved by Indigenous peoples and local communities” or “territories of life.”  

She was a central figure of the organization and her work was well known in the region. “Ghanimat was actively engaged in all aspects of documenting and protecting ‘territories of life,’” said Foggin. “Her name preceded her.”  

Ghanimat Azhdari was a member of the Qashqai nomadic people of southwestern and central Iran. She spent her life researching and promoting Indigenous-driven conservation efforts. (Credit: ICCA Consortium)

Azhdari appeared on behalf of the ICCA Consortium at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity summit in Egypt in 2018. Speaking to hundreds of delegates wearing a traditional dress sewn by her mother, she implored them to listen to, and engage, Indigenous people in conservation efforts. No one else has a bigger stake in biologically diverse lands than they do, she argued—eighty percent of global biodiversity is found on Indigenous territories.   

In Canada, where Azhdari began working on her PhD last September, she was collaborating with the Miawpukek First Nation to map Indigenous cultural sites in the boreal forests of Newfoundland.

In Kyrgyzstan, where Foggin is based, she participated in a workshop on the anticipated social and environmental impacts of China’s Belt and Road Initiative through mountain regions of Central Asia. The controversial trillion dollar project is, according to the Chinese government, a plan to build transportation infrastructure in countries around the world—particularly Southeast and Central Asia—in order to “enhance regional connectivity.” Some see it as a move to streamline the flow of goods in and out of China.

“Ghanimat was a loving person,” Foggin told GlacierHub. “She cared so much for people—for her people, the Qashqai tribe, and also for many others in similar circumstances,” he said.

An outpouring of grief across the internet and social media followed the news of her passing. The ICCA Consortium posted a tribute on its website lamenting the “utter disbelief” and heartbreak at the sudden loss of “one of its most cherished flowers.”

Born a member of the Qashqai tribe in southwestern Iran, Ghanimat Azhdari (far right) was well known and respected for her work representing Indigenous peoples and lands throughout Central Asia and the world. (Credit: ICCA Consortium)

“A thriving young Indigenous scholar’s life and work has been extinguished,” Dr. Karim-Aly Saleh Kassam, professor of environmental and Indigenous studies at Cornell University, told GlacierHub in an email. “The loss will be felt by all of us—even those who did not get to know her—because we will no longer have access to the insights of this PhD student from Guelph University,” he said.

Foggin recalled the last time he saw Azhdari in person, at the ICCA regional assembly in Yerevan, Armenia this past summer, right before she went off to Canada for her PhD. Their team of about twenty people were there from countries spanning Jordan and Lebanon, through Armenia, Georgia and Iran.

Azhdari was “very much a central figure,” he said, “holding us together; bringing her good cheer and extraordinary knowledge and experience; as well as her positive and always pleasant demeanor.” 

“We miss her so much,” he said. “We will always miss her.”

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The Paris Agreement Offers Some Good News for Glaciers

Discussion at meeting of glacier countries at COP21 (source: Deborah Poole)
Discussion at meeting of glacier countries at COP21 (source: Deborah Poole)

The 195 countries which took part in COP21 reached consensus on 12 December, bringing the Paris Agreement into being. This accord, in which nearly all nations have stated their specific goals (“nationally determined contributions” or NDCs) in reducing emissions, has been widely acclaimed as a positive step in addressing climate change. With its attention to transparency and monitoring, and with its commitment to a concrete schedule of future steps, it represents a sharp contrast with the vagueness and relative inaction of earlier COPs. But what does this Agreement mean for the glaciers of the world? Though the document focuses primarily on the details of the plans and actions through which countries will reduce their emissions, it does include some elements of relevance to glaciers.

Climate Change Mitigation in the Paris Agreement

Of these elements, the most important is the Agreement’s core,  the global commitment to reducing emissions and to limiting global warming. These offer some protection to glaciers, since glacier retreat is so tightly tied to temperature increases, which in turn are linked to greenhouse gas concentrations. In addition, it provides a more stringent temperature target than those included in decisions at the  earlier COPs. Where these earlier documents spoke of limiting warming to 2 °C, the Paris Agreement calls for “ holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C.” Though the difference may seem small, it could make a significant difference for glaciers. For discussion of this point, GlacierHub contacted Christian Huggel, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich and leader of the university’s Research Group on Environment and Climate: Impacts, Risks and Adaptation. He stated:

Anchoring 1.5° C in addition to 2° in the Paris Agreement is important and substantially matters for glaciers. Although we have a lack of studies analyzing the detailed impacts of 1.5° C vs 2° C on glaciers and downstream regions, we can easily see how much of an effect 0.5° C global temperature change can make to glaciers if we observe the consequences on glaciers of a ca. 0.8° C global temperature increase since the Little Ice Age (and glaciers are yet not in a balance with current climate).

ICCI report on the cryosphere under different emissions scenarios (source: ICCINET)
ICCI report on the cryosphere under different emissions scenarios (source: ICCINET)

The International Cryosphere Climate Initiative released a detailed report at COP21, titled “Thresholds and Closing Windows: Risks of  Irreversible Cryosphere Climate Change,” which begins to fill the gap that Huggel mentions. This report calculates the projected loss in glacier volume through 2300 for several scenarios, including one that examines the effects of the emissions allowed with the NDCs that were promised at COP21 and another that meets the 1.5C limit. Their models indicate the projected losses for 12 glacier regions of the world. The regions at higher elevations and closer to the poles are less vulnerable, but even so, by 2100 the least vulnerable regions in Patagonia, Alaska and the Canadian Arctic will lose 20-30% of their ice volume in 2000, depending on the scenario, while the most vulnerable regions in the central Andes will face declines of 80-90%. By 2300, the outcome is more severe: even the highest, coldest areas will have lost 50-60% of their ice, and the glaciers will be reduced to less than 5% of their 2000 volume, if they have not fully disappeared.

Climate Change Adaptation in the Paris Agreement

Since the new mitigation plans in the Paris Accords will not be able to  protect glaciers fully, it is positive that the agreement  speaks strongly of the importance of adaptation. Article 7 states “[the] Parties hereby establish the global goal on adaptation of enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to contributing to sustainable development and ensuring an adequate adaptation response in the context of the temperature goal referred to in Article 2 [and described above].”  The communities that are most directly affected by glacier retreat may also fall under the special protection also described in Article 7, which recognizes the goal “to protect people, livelihoods and ecosystems, taking into account the urgent and immediate needs of those developing country Parties that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.”

Regional Mountain Glacier melt with different emissions scenarios (source: ICCINET)
Regional mountain glacier melt with different emissions scenarios (source: ICCINET)

Moreover, the Agreement contains language which offers recognition of the cultural distinctiveness and long-established knowledge. It  includes “indigenous rights” among the rights which Parties should “respect, promote and consider. ” It  specifically mentions “local communities and indigenous peoples” as non-Party stakeholders. The contributions of mountain peoples, as well as their rights, are recognized in Article 7, which indicates that adaptation action should “be based on and guided by” both “the best available science”, and, when appropriate, “traditional knowledge, knowledge of indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems,”

The Agreement contains two specific sections which recognize that the impacts of climate change may be so severe that they cannot be addressed by adaptation. The opening section calls for several bodies within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change  to “develop recommendations for integrated approaches to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change” Article 8 states “Parties recognize the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events, and the role of sustainable development in reducing the risk of loss and damage.” In other words, the Agreement recognizes that glacier retreat may drive people from their established homes in mountain regions, or present them with losses and damages to which they cannot adapt. Huggel commented:

Loss and damage has been one of the most critical and contested issues in Paris. Compensation and liability have been explicitly excluded in the Paris Agreement but are not off  the table. Science and policy need to work on how to deal with different form of loss, including the irreversible loss of glaciers which in many societies comes along with a loss of cultural identity.

Installation of ice from Greenland glaciers at COP21 in Paris. Ice Watch by Olafur Eliasson. (Source: Ben Orlove)
Installation of glacier ice at COP21 in Paris. Ice Watch by Olafur Eliasson. (Source: Ben Orlove)

Beyond  the Paris Agreement: Next Steps

Some issues of importance to glaciers do not appear in the Agreement, which focuses on reductions in emissions. It does not mention black carbon, an important short-lived climate pollutant which reduced snow cover and exacerbates glacier melt in several regions.   Fuller attention to adaptation financing would have offered greater assurance to mountain regions, which have already been experiencing the effects of glacier retreat for decades. Nonetheless, the Agreement addresses several elements of importance to communities and ecosystems which rely on glaciers: it advances on mitigation and adaptation, it recognizes indigenous peoples and local communities, and it discusses displacement and loss and damage.

Lonnie Thompson, a  paleoclimatologist, widely known for his ice-core research around the world, offered this assessment of the Agreement.

I do not think the Paris talks should be viewed as a “make it or break it” on climate change as it is a complex process with so many players involved.   However, most physical and biological systems contain thresholds. Ice is perfectly stable below freezing,. and above freezing it just melts.  It is the potential thresholds in our climate system that I worry about.  When it comes to global climate change, nature is the time-keeper and none of us can see the clock to know just how much time we have to come up with a binding solutions however the global retreat of glaciers very clearly tell us that the clock is ticking.   Unfortunately, at least in the foreseeable future. the glaciers will continue to retreat. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “The best way to predict the future is to create it”.  We still have a lot of work to do!

It seems likely that mountain countries will be aware of this work that lies in the future. They will pay close attention to the implementation of these provisions and to the promotion of stronger action in future years.

Other News from COP21

Representatives of seven small glacier countries (Tajikistan, Bhutan, Peru, Bolivia, Switzerland, Austria and Norway) met a COP21 to discuss topics of common interest. They agreed on several follow-up actions and planned to meet again. For more information, see here.

UNESCO held a conference entitled “Resilience in a Time of Uncertainty: Indigenous peoples and climate change” just before  COP21. It brought together over 60 speakers and an audience of over 650 people in plenary and parallel sessions and side-events.  The event was unusual for its success in creating direct dialogue and exchange between indigenous people—from North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the Pacific—and scientists and policy-makers. The speakers emphasized that indigenous groups are addressing the threats of climate change, along with the strong pressures which capitalist economies and modern bureaucratic states place on indigenous land rights and autonomy. For more information, see here.