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Ica Valley, Peru

The Project

The main interest of the T2GS project is to investigate irrigation by pozas and the importance it has had and still has for the development of small-scale agriculture in the valleys of the Peruvian coast. Its origin is pre-Hispanic and continues to be used to this day. Irrigation fulfills several functions: fertilize the plot, regulate the water and recharge the aquifer.


The Ica Valley has been presenting a "water emergency" due to the decrease of the aquifer, after decades of agricultural exports boom and being a region of great economic dynamism. In this scenario, the State has begun to revalue irrigation by pozas, due to the function of recharging the aquifer for the agro-export enterprises. Thus, in the last year they have been promoting it throughout the valley.

The Ica Watershed (Source: Project Estate and Scarcity. Alejandra Cuentas (PUCP) and (GIZ) 2017)

We are interested in analyzing the tension between the collective action of irrigation by pozas by small farmers and the particular interests of agro-exporters for the conservation of groundwater. Likewise, we want to analyze and compare the imaginaries and discourses of the agro-exporters with those of small farmers in the valley.


As part of the joint learning and the objectives of the T2GS project, the Peru Team is interested in comparing two valleys on the Peruvian coast: Motupe in the north and Ica in the south of the country, since in both areas small farmers cultivate their plots using irrigation by pozas, which maintains a close relationship with groundwater.

The Ica Valley landscape. The valley has fertile soils, sun along the whole year, and is surrounded by dunes. (Credit: Gari Solorzano)

Likewise, generate a dialogue with the teams of the countries involved in the T2GS project about topics such as irrigation and traditional technology in groundwater, its possibilities and limitations; the collective action of surface irrigation systems versus private interests in groundwater management; the imaginaries and discourses of the agro-exporters versus the imaginaries of local populations and groundwater in public policies.

Export agricultural farm with red globe grape plantations (Credit: Gari Solorzano) 


The Ica Valley is located on the central coast of Peru, in the Ica River basin. The valley is similar to an oasis, surrounded by dunes, with fertile soils and sun all year round, suitable for agriculture. Water was always scarce due to the absence of rain. The water comes from the mountains, but the Ica River carries water for only three months in the summerand presents great variability.

In pre-Hispanic times, the indigenous people developed an irrigated agriculture, based on the collective control and management of water, and a sophisticated technology for the construction of irrigation channels and river defenses. Likewise, they displayed great knowledge in the irrigation by pozas: flooding their farms with the summer waters, they maintained humidity and preserved their crops against the variability of the river.

The principal irrigation channel in the valley, La Achirana, dates from precolonial times (Credit: Javier Chiong)

At present, irrigation continues to be through pozas

and old irrigation canals. The pozas are used by small owners in crops such as beans -beans, lima beans, chickpeas-, and a diversity of fruit trees that require little water. The pozas require collective forms of coordination among farmers, so the water flows continuously from one plot to another. It fulfills the functions of:  Fertilize the land, by flooding the plot, with nutrients that carry the flood waters; regulate the water, facing the variability of the Ica river; and recharge the aquifer.

The “pozas”, traditional irrigation system, managed by small farmers. (Credit: Pablo Sanchez)

In the 1990s, the Peruvian government liberalized the land market. Into the valley entered new national and foreign companies with modern technology to extract groundwater. Agro-exporting companies settled in uncultivated desert lands, applying technical irrigation for new crops such as asparagus, hass avocado, red globe grapes, citrus fruits, etc. In a few years "the desert was covered in green" and the agricultural frontier was expanding. The new crops were well received in the international market and the valley became one of the most modern and economically successful regions. The discourse of the agro-exporters considering themselves as "the engine of progress and modernization of the Ica region" spread throughout the country.

Small farmers preparing irrigation for their plots. (Credit: Nelly Plaza)

But in 2010 the valley was declared in a "water emergency": the aquifer declined due to the uncontrolled exploitation of groundwater, causing the scarcity of the resource, increasing social conflicts, and endangering the very agro-export production.


It is in this context that the pozas in Ica have been gaining importance, due to their function of recharging the aquifer, which could give sustainability to groundwater agriculture.

Small farmers plot with grapes, pallares, beans, corn, mangoes. (Credit: Gustavo Echegaray)


Hepworth Nick, Julio C. Postigo, Bruno Guêmes Delgado (2010). Understanding the impacts of the UK´s Water Footprint through a case study of Peruvian Asparagus.CEPES, PROGRESSIO, WaterWitness International


Marshall Anaís (2014). Apropiarse del desierto . Agricultura globalizada y dinámicas socioambientales en la costa peruana. El caso de los oasis de Virú e Ica-Villacurí.  Instituto Francés de Estudios Andinos (IFEA).  Lima,Perú.  

 Oré, María Teresa (2005). Agua, Bien Comun y Usos Privados.  Estado, Riego y Conflictos en La Achirana del Inca. Fondo Editorial de la Pontificia Universidad Católican. Wageningen University.  Water and Indigenous Rigths. Soluciones Prácticas. Lima. Perú.

Oré, MaríaTeresa., Bayer David, Chiong javier.,Rendon Eric (2013). Water Emergency in Oasis of the Peruvian coast. The effects of the agro-export boom in the Ica Valley    CRESC et PRODIG, Colloquium "Oases in globalization: ruptures and continuities", Paris, France. pp.167-176, Actes du colloque "Oasis dans la mondialisation : ruptures et continuites". <hal-01024460> Submitted on 16 Jul 2014.

Oré María Teresa  y Gerardo  Damonte (2014). Escasez del agua en la cuenca del Rio Ica?  Fondo Editorial de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú y la GIZ Cooperación Técnica

Damonte, G. y Gonzales, I. (2018). Politicas públicas, relaciones de poder e intereses en conflictos en la gestión de las aguas subterráneas en Ica.In Ore, M.T.and Muñoz, I. (eds.), Aguas en Disputa: Ica y Huancavelica entre el enfrentamiento y el diálogo(pp. 75-110). Lima: Fondo editorial de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. 2018. 

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