Strengthening local capacities for the sustainable management of the high Andean wetlands of Ayacucho, Peru

On 6 November, researchers from the Centro de Competencias del Agua, the Peruvian University Cayetano Heredia and the University of the West of England, presented results from the research project Strengthening local capacities for the sustainable management of Andean basin headwaters wetlands facing global change, which has been undertaken within the framework of the Newton-Paulet Fund: Institutional Links – Collaborative Projects programme. The event took place in Ayacucho, at the National University San Cristóbal de Huamanga‘s Center for Research, Development, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

This research was funded by the Newton-Paulet Fund and the National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development (FONDECYT; Contract 225-2018), and aimed to improve the understanding of the links between the Andean Puna wetlands and the ecosystem services they provide, and the impact on human well-being. This knowledge will then inform practical solutions for water sustainability in the semi-arid Andes. The study area of ​​the research project is the Chicllarazo microbasin, one of the largest contributors to the main water infrastructure of Ayacucho – the ‘Cachi’ Special Project. Cachi is a hydraulic infrastructure project that collects water from three microbasins – Apacheta, Chicllarazo and Choccoro – and supplies water for the population and for agricultural purposes.

The research had three components. The first component aimed to identify the hydrological and edaphological characteristics of the microbasin through the monitoring of the Millpupampa bofedal. Based on this, it will establish a monitoring system with low-cost sensors to measure the inflow/outflow of the wetlands. The physical-chemical parameters tested indicate that there are favorable conditions for the bofedal water to be of good quality. In addition, between 68-79% of the natural pastures identified are palatable to camelid livestock (mainly alpacas in this region), with the predominant presence of Distichia muscoides. We also observed changes in the condition of the bofedal: from May to October 2019, the condition varied from “good” to “excellent”, and with that, the animal carrying capacity (slightly) increased.

The second component aimed to assess the quality of the ecosystem by measuring the physical and chemical parameters of the water, and establishing relationships within the structure of the community of bioindicators (macroinvertebrates) identified in streams and wetlands. Taxonomic identification allowed researchers to estimate aquatic biodiversity and used this information to describe water quality through the Andean Biotic Index, adapted to the Peruvian Andes. The samples were taken in three zones of the Millpupampa bofedal (high, medium and low, with the latter seeing greater anthropogenic pressure), where 25 families in 14 orders were identified. The results indicated that between May and October 2019, the quality of the ecosystem decreased, since it went from registering numerous points of excellent quality to more points of regular quality.

The third component was the identification and evaluation of anthropogenic pressures, which provides information on human activities affecting the Puna ecosystem in the study area. To collect the primary information, we applied the Survey of Anthropogenic Pressures in High Andean Basins (EPACA) and the survey of Household Water Insecurity Experiences (HWISE), in the seven locations that make up the upper zone, or sallqa, of the Chuschi Community, which coincides with the scope of the Chicllarazo microbasin. The results were analyzed using the Pressure-Impact-Response framework.

The highest pressure on Chicllarazo is livestock activity: 86% of the families surveyed are dedicated to alpaquería (alpaca farming). However, although it is the main economic activity, the income it generates is low – 46% of respondents reported an income of less than S/250 (around £57/$74), well below the average income of the rural highlands of Peru. With the supply-oriented management of livestock, producers prefer to gain more money by increasing alpaca numbers rather than adding value to their products, which means there is overgrazing (by approximately 20%) in the family livestock area (see map).

The surveys also revealed a significant proportion of the population surveyed (30%) find water for food and drink preparation in direct and untreated natural sources (springs and ‘water eyes’). According to our evaluation, the impact of this activity on the ecosystem is not significant due to the low population growth in the area, characteristic of rural areas in regions with a negative net migration rate (-5.85 per thousand). Six out of the seven neighborhoods at the locality level, and 64% of respondents at the community level, experience water insecurity. Worry, interruption of service and anger are the most frequent experiences of water insecurity among families who have a home in Chicllarazo.

The results were delivered to the president of the Chuschi Peasant Community, and it is hoped they will serve as inputs for the design of ‘green’ public investment projects for the benefit of the population of Chicllarazo and the region of Ayacucho. In addition, this information may be useful to propose Chicllarazo as an area of ​​intervention for projects related to compensation mechanisms for ecosystem services in Ayacucho, an initiative for the conservation or recovery of key areas of hydrological ecosystem services and the related benefits for the well-being of nearby populations.

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This work was supported by an Institutional Links grant, ID 413987121, under the Newton-Paulet Fund partnership. The grant is funded by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and CONCYTEC and delivered by the British Council. For further information, please visit