School of Biology, University of St Andrews

Category: Fishing and Farming

The Sechura desert and the economic activities of its inhabitants

Sechura is located on the north coast of Peru, in the region of Piura. It has an area of 6311.69 km2 and an average altitude of 15 meters above sea level. It is divided into six districts, which are: Sechura (Capital of the Province), Bellavista de La Unión, Bernal, Cristo Nos Valga, Rinconada de LLicuar and Vice (INEI, 2017).

Fig 1. Sechura Map – Perú

Sechura is the home of the widest area of desert in coastal Peru. Communities that are located on the coast dedicate most of their activity to artisanal fishing in the sea. Despite being an area with a fairly hot climate and with lack of water, there are also communities further inland that develop activities such as agriculture, livestock, continental fishing, beekeeping, among others.

When we started our work on this research project, we were very excited to be able to travel to Sechura and learn about the experiences of local people in relation to their economic activities. However, we received the bad news of the arrival of COVID-19 in Peru and with it, our government imposed certain restrictive regulations that stopped a large part of the activities that we had programmed. Despite this, we adapted to the situation and reconsidered our work plan. At first we were able to analyze information available on the web, reports, theses, etc., which allowed us to better know these communities. Likewise, through telephone calls we were able to interview and make the first contacts with the inhabitants of the desert, thanks to the database provided by the NGO Prisma. Thus, we learned more about the communities that live in the desert and the level of impact that climate change and the El Niño phenomenon had on them. Through these experiences, we were able to identify some populated centers in the districts of Cristo Nos Valga and Bernal, due to their proximity to the “Ñapique”, “Ramón” and “La Niña” lagoons.

A few months later, the restrictions in Peru changed. With great caution and under a strict biosafety protocol, we were able to visit some populated centers in the desert. Among them are the most populated such as “Chutuque” and “Mala Vida” whose population is around 250 to 300 families. Around it there are also other populated centers such as “Nuevo Pozo Oscuro”, “Los Jardines”, “La Algarrobera”, among others. Families in this desert area have many economic deficiencies and basic services. They have limited access to water for family use, electricity is limited (only in some populated centers), and similarly the urban and telecommunications infrastructure is almost non-existant. Despite this, we were able to observe many children who take advantage of the tranquility of the desert to play.

Fig  2. First meeting with residents of Sechura and the team from the La Molina National Agrarian University.

The use of water for agriculture is very limited, therefore agriculture is normally carried out in small areas (<1 hectare) with little technology. The residents eagerly await the rainy season that begins in the summer (January to March); consequently, these rains moisten the soils and are suitable for growing food for a short vegetative period. In addition, these rains increase the water level in the Rivers and some lands may have temporary access to water, which is irrigated with the help of hydraulic pumps. Thus, the inhabitants of these desert communities can plant products in a limited way, such as: corn, sweet potato, various varieties of beans, watermelon, melon, cotton, squash, etc. These will then be harvested and commercialized, however much of it is stored for family consumption during the other seasons of the year.

Fig  3. Some rafts in the desert were used for fishing.
Fig  4. Some nets in the desert were used for fishing

Lately however, we have been visiting some populated centers in Sechura that are located near the channel of the Piura river. We have been interviewing residents of populated centers such as “San Cristo”, “Cerritos”, “Onza de Oro”, and unlike desert settlers, most families have irrigation canals in their agricultural fields. It has allowed them to develop a diversified agriculture such as cotton, rice, varieties of beans, sweet potatoes, fruit trees, squash, watermelon, etc. In addition, they have been able to develop raising animals such as goats, sheep, pigs, chickens in greater abundance than the desert populations.

Fig  5. Villages near to “ Ramon”, “Ñapique” and “La Niña” lagoons

The fishing is an important activity for these inhabitants; however, a large part of the fishermen are fishing in the sea and some take advantage of the Ñapique lagoon and other areas to catch mullet (Mugil cephalus) or tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus).

With the presence of extreme events such as “The El Niño phenomenon”, two situations are contrasted, in the desert area this event is seen by the inhabitants as a “blessing” since the abundance of water improves their agriculture, livestock and fishing. However, the residents of the lower zone mention that it has a negative impact on them, in most of their economic activities.

We hope that the information we have been collecting will allow us to better understand this difference and propose ideas so that the local government, private companies and NGOs are interested in contributing knowledge, development plans and technology to improve the quality of life of these families.

Fig  6. Drylands for lack of rain in Ramon Lake.
Fig  7. An afternoon in “Mala Vida” – Sechura

This blog was writed by: Ivan Gomez (1) , Evelyn  Inguil (2),  Maya Gomez-Coultas(3)  and Gabriel Bonnamy (3)
(1),(2), La Molina National Agrarian University – Perú, Lima /  (3) St. Andrews University- -UK, Scotland

Reunion Para El Fortalecimiento De Actividades En El Desierto De Sechura

En el marco del proyecto “ Pesca y Agricultura en el Desierto, una plataforma para para entender cómo responder a el niño en el contexto del cambio climático en Sechura, Perú y con  la finalidad de fortalecer las actividades de coordinación en la toma de información a pobladores de las comunidades aledañas a las lagunas Ñapique y La Niña en el desierto de Sechura,”;  el equipo técnico de la Fundación para el Desarrollo Agrario (FDA) visitó el centro poblado de “Chutuque” en el distrito de Cristo Nos Valga, Sechura. La FDA contó con la presencia del Dr. Jaime Mendo y su equipo técnico; quienes se reunieron con el Sr. Bernardo Ruiz Tume (presidente del COMITÉ DE USUARIOS DE USO TEMPORAL DE AGUA PARA RIEGO AGRICOLA, GANADERÍA, PESQUERIA, TURISMO Y OTROS DEL MARGEN IZQUIERDO Y DERECHO DEL RIO PIURA, PROVINCIA SECHURA – R.A. N°040-2019-MDCNV/A) y el Sr. Diego Chunga Morales (teniente gobernador del centro poblado de “Chutuque”).

El Dr. Jaime Mendo inicio la reunión con una breve explicación del proyecto y su importancia para la toma de decisiones frente a las oportunidades que genera el Fenómeno El Niño en las actividades económicas locales, principalmente en la pesca y agricultura. Los señores Bernardo Tume y Diego Chunga manifestaron su interés en apoyar al proyecto para la realización de encuestas a más pobladores y se comprometieron a dar apoyo para que más comunidades de su organización puedan brindar facilidades para la toma de información. Asimismo, mencionaron que el mencionado comité vienen ejecutando un proyecto denominado “LA TAPA DEL CUY” cuyo fin es represar el agua que proviene del rio Piura y sea usado para la agricultura familiar; y solicitaron el apoyo para que  a través de la universidad u otra institución se pueda desarrollar proyectos productivos como la acuicultura, producción de uvas, manejo de bosques de algarrobo, producción de artemias y la capacitación para el uso del riego tecnificado como alternativa ante la escasez de agua.

El equipo de FDA manifestó a los dirigentes la importancia de la organización para acceder a fondos concursables para la elaboración de proyectos pilotos productivos de impacto social, y  se comprometió a contactar con profesores de la UNALM para que asesoren y capaciten virtualmente a los pobladores para el uso de riego tecnificado en la producción agrícola local. Cabe mencionar que los dirigentes vienen ejecutando un empadronamiento de los pobladores de su organización y se ofrecieron a facilitar la información que se necesite, esta organización contempla los centros poblados como “Mala Vida”, “Cerritos”, “Onza de Oro”, “Nuevo Pozo Oscuro”, “Los Jardines”, entre otros.

Finalmente, el equipo de la FDA llevo a cabo una reunión en Sechura con el Ing. Alex Eche Chunga (Gerente de desarrollo económico de la Municipalidad de Sechura) quien manifestó su interés en fortalecer el nivel de organización de estas comunidades para acceder a futuros fondos concursables y el apoyo logístico para continuar con las encuestas durante los siguientes meses.

Meeting for Strengthening Activities in the Sechura Desert

Within the framework of the project “Fishing and farming in the Desert, a platform to understand how to respond to the El Nino in the context of climate change in Sechura, Peru and with the aim of strengthening coordination activities with the communities surrounding the lagoons of Napique and La Niña in the Sechura Desert”; the technical team of the Agrarian Development Foundation (FDA) visited the town of “Chutuque” in the district of Cristo Nos Valga, Sechura.  Dr. Jaime  Mendo and his technical team met with Mr.  Bernardo Ruiz Tume  (Chairman of the Committee of users of temporary water for irrigation, livestock, fisheries, tourism and others of the left and right margin of the Piura River , Sechura Province – R.A. No. 040-2019-MDCNV/A) and Mr. Diego Chunga Morales (Lieutenant Governor “Chutuque”).

Dr. Jaime Mendo started the meeting with a brief explanation of the project and its importance for decision-making in the face of the opportunities generated by the El Niño in local economic activities, mainly in fisheries and agriculture. Mr. Bernardo Tume and Mr. Diego Chunga   expressed their interest in supporting the project by facilitating interviews with villagers and pledged to support more communities in their organization. They also  mentioned  that the aforementioned committee has been implementing a project called “LA TAPA DEL CUY”  aimed at damming water from the Piura River and being used for family farming; and requested support so that through the university or another institution productive projects such as aquaculture, grape production, management of algarrobo forests, production of artemia and training for the use of technical irrigation can be developed as an alternative to water  scarcity.

The FDA team expressed to leaders the importance of community organization in accessing funds for the development of pilot projects, and pledged to contact UNALM teachers to virtually advise and train villagers for the use of technical irrigation in local agricultural production. It is  worth mentioning that the leaders have registering the inhabitants in their region and offered to  provide  the   information that is needed. This organization covers the villages of  “Mala Vida”, “Cerritos”, “Onza de Oro”, “Nuevo Pozo Oscuro”, among others.

Finally, the FDA team held a meeting in Sechura with Ing. Alex Eche Chunga (Economic Development Manager of the Municipality of Sechura) who expressed an interest in strengthening the level of organization of these communities to access future funds and logistical support to continue the surveys over the next few months.