Gifts in action

The power of irrigation

In high-altitude Peru, irrigating a field helps provide for the next generation. Photo: Percy Ramirez/Oxfam America

In the highlands of Peru, an irrigation system is helping Julio Huilca Qqhue’s family earn much-needed income. And for his granddaughter Nilva, 13, who wants to study medicine someday, it’s also helping to secure a bright future.

In 2011, Huilca participated in an Oxfam America-funded project designed to help people in the highlands of Peru adapt to climate change. Farmers here say that rainfall shortages, periods of intense cold, and other extreme weather are making it harder for them grow crops and raise livestock.

Oxfam’s local partner organization worked with Huilca to build a sprinkler irrigation system for his fields, as well as a spring-fed reservoir on top of a nearby hill. The sprinkler system pulls water down from the reservoir using gravity, rather than electricity, which saves on fuel costs. Since there is no municipal water here in the tiny community of Urinsaya, the reservoir also supplies water to a small primary school nearby.

Thanks to training from Oxfam’s partner, Huilca, 65, has quadrupled the amount of land he irrigates—from 2.5 acres to 10 acres.

“The irrigation system has been very helpful,” said Huilca. “This teaching motivates us … We can keep learning, keep working. If you know how to do it, you can expand.”

Huilca planted the irrigated land with cold-resistant rye grass seeds provided by Oxfam’s local partner organization, and purchased a herd of dairy cows, which normally wouldn’t eat the sparse grasses that grow here at 13,000 feet above sea level.

His family earns a steady income by selling the milk from the cows at a nearby market. They use these earnings not only to maintain the farm, but to help pay for an education for Nilva and her two sisters.

“We reinvest the money,” said Huilca. “We want to keep growing the [pasture] and to support the family.”

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