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Motupe Valley, Peru

The Project

Point of departure for research in the Motupe Valley are the (knowledge) practices involving pozas; an indigenous technology that can be used for irrigation, regulation of runoff and recharge of groundwater. Early chroniclers witnessed them in valleys along the Peruvian coast in the 16th century, and they are still being used today. Pozas are basins – either diked or excavated – that capture water in times of abundance to prolong soil moisture availability and maintain groundwater levels after seasonal rains. In our research activities, we trace pozas and groundwater ontologies in Motupe today while also embarking on a historical and archaeological study of pozas. As part of the joint learning objectives of the T2GS project, the Peru team will compare and contrast poza-related practices across valleys in Peru, but collaborate with partners to hold the case of pozas to contemporary use of indigenous technologies in South India and the Maghreb. 

Motupe area (Credit: Dominguez et al. 2017)


The Motupe Valley is located on the arid coast of Peru. Here rainfall occurs a few times a year between December and March. The river runs dry shortly after the rains, while temperatures favor agricultural production. Historically farmers in Motupe guided water, when available, from the river to fill their pozas, let it infiltrate and sow crops with short growing seasons. Open wells were used for drinking water and domestic purposes. 

An open well is used for drinking water, domestic use and certain farming practices like foliar spraying. (Credit: Andres Verzijl)

In the 1940s, landlords led the construction of the Huallabamba Canal, which diverted water from the other side of the Andes to assure year-round water in Motupe. Though not immediately, Huallabamba allowed small farmers an additional irrigation turn and a homestead orchard with fruit trees for home consumption. 

The Huallabamba canal which divert water from the Atlantic to the Pacific (and Motupe)  side of the Andes. (Credit: Andres Verzijl)

Motupe is known for its maize and, more recently, the cultivation of mangos for export. Since the 1990s, large-scale farmers and agribusiness started growing mangos, using borewells and drip irrigation. Soon, small farmers in Motupe – who often worked on the large estates – began experimenting with mangos. They relied, however, on pozas and water from the Andes. 

Children are walking on the banks of a poza wherein maize is grown. It is used for irrigation and recharge. (Credit: Carolina Domínguez-Guzmán)

Mango trees enable small farmers in ways many other fruit trees don’t: they tolerate waterlogging and are drought resistant. Mango taproots reach far into the ground, and many farmers therefore know the importance of keeping groundwater levels up and the effective way that pozas help realize this. Our study suggests that their irrigation technology and their intercropping practices allow small farmers to compete with agribusiness successfully. In any case, with the surge of smallholder production, the latter are transforming their mango orchards to avocado or grapes.

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