The AASD community projects are driven by some of the main principles of agroecology: responsible land stewardship, respect for local knowledge, and profitable production. That is to say that our work strives to support the culture of farming just as much as the ecological production of food. For over a decade, we have been helping communities take advantage of greenhouse technology to build and maintain greenhouses that help with a communities dietary diversity and economic development.
Trust and Relationships in Communities
Over the decades, the Peruvian government has sent agricultural technicians to campesino communities as part of development projects to teach them conventional agriculture methods, which often:
- Promote chemical (often imported) pesticides, fertilizers and other inputs that need to be constantly applied
- Promote the mass cultivation of one crop (monocropping) instead of diversifying, which would protect against market fluctuations and result in healthier soil
- Ignore the natural symbiosis of certain plants, the benefits of crop rotation, the use and power of local inputs, and other methodologies long understood and used by campesinos
The projects tend to be identified and carried out through a top-down process, not allowing for input from the communities, or considering ownership and sustainability once the projects end. In addition, those that implement the projects (technicians) often cannot relate to the campesino communities due to language barriers from Quechua/Spanish, cultural differences, differing emphasis on conventional/traditional methods, and not understanding the unique topography of campesino farms. All of these factors combined not only result in lack of trust and connection, but also in “prescribed” methods and projects that are not appropriate for the campesino context. For this, the importance of the AASD Peruvian staff’s role in our community projects cannot be overstated. They are local campesinos themselves, with years of both formal and informal agriculture education and the ability to communicate in both Quechua and Spanish.
Our approach to community projects is that the communities themselves identify their needs and hopes, and our role is simply to help facilitate projects that meet those needs and hopes. This allows community members to take ownership of projects before, during and after their implementation, and ensures successful and sustainable outcomes even after AASD’s role has finished.
People affected by capacity building
People affected by greenhouses
About Greenhouse Projects
The School Greenhouse Project is the flagship project of the AASD. Since 2009, this project has taken important steps to combat malnutrition in the Andes, which is widespread and disproportionately affects campesino communities. Statistics from the Peruvian Ministry of Health show that in 2010, three out of every four children in the district of Lares (an area of focus for our community projects) was malnourished. In addition to providing a nutritious contribution to the children’s school lunches, these greenhouses present an opportunity for local technicians to teach vegetable cultivation to students and teachers, and it becomes a pedagogical tool for math, science, and other classes. From the success of the School Greenhouse Project came our Family Greenhouse Project, which began in 2012. As students returned to their homes excited about the agriculture lessons they learned in school that day, their parents became interested and wanted the opportunity to cultivate vegetables at home as well.
The process of becoming one of our Family Greenhouse recipients is simple yet important. Our agriculture staff present the opportunity to a community during a community meeting (these meetings usually require the presence of all community members). Interested families discuss with our staff their ability to comply with our requirements: Providing the materials for the structure (typically inexpensive, locally sourced wood), the manpower needed to construct the structure (typically provided by friends and family), and the motivation to ensure the greenhouse’s use and upkeep. We provide the plastic, nails, mesh and irrigation system. The splitting of these costs and labor is a way to ensure ownership on the part of the recipient. We are able to make exceptions to this division for special cases.
Our agriculture staff provides technical assistance in both its construction and in fruit and vegetable production within it (generally just for the first year). If needed, we donate plants and seeds to get the family started.
The School and Family Greenhouse Projects have enabled families to introduce fresh vegetables into their regular diets and improve their economic opportunities. Perhaps one of the most signiﬁcant measures of the success of this project is the fact that communities have taken ownership of the process and begun to build additional greenhouses without AASD support, and work directly with the local government to accomplish their goals.
Today, we continue to support families that want to build greenhouses and have expanded our community projects to focus on providing capacity-building, including workshops and farm visits. Workshops take place in the communities themselves (though we also occasionally host them at Ecohuella). Workshop topics include management and preparation of soils; making organic fertilizer; and ecological pest and plague management. Workshop dates and times are determined in advance with the community and take place generally five times per year per community. Farm visits occur about once a month for each farmer we work with, and are coordinated in advance with the farmers.
Monitoring and Evaluation
To ensure community projects are meeting their goals we have defined metrics and indicators to measure the efficacy of our projects. We are intentional about checking our assumptions and while we whole-heartedly believe in our projects, we also believe in the importance of monitoring and evaluating community projects and their success so that we can continue to improve and evolve.