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Peruvian Peasant Economies:

A Challenge to the FTAA

The FTAA's objective is that our countries be reduced to producers of primary materials to be processed by the Yankees, and that we give up being producers in order to resign ourselves to being consumers of the products of Yankee businesses. However in Cusco, Peru, the departmental federation of the peasants of Cusco (FDCC) considers that the small scale production encompassing 92% of the country's land can achieve profitability and competitiveness and become a source of progress which will contribute to the development of the internal market.

The main limitations which affect small scale producers and which perpetuate their extreme poverty are as follows. (1) Low yields of crops and livestock. (2) Lack of diversification. (3) They buy and sell on unfavourable terms; in buying because they are the last link in the chain of commerce; and in selling because they supply raw materials to the first link in the chain of commerce. (4) Poor producers sell to poor consumers who, having low purchasing power, are unable to pay fair prices. (5) Bad investments in the form of purchases of technical equipment used for only a short period within the agricultural cycle.

Canas, located at an altitude of 3,900 metres, sustains itself on technological capacity-building and implementation of productive, conservationist and transformative technology. Diversification of production has been achieved, combining the cultivation of a fixed family allotment with the recovery of Andean crops such as quinoa, cañihua, tarwi, papa nativa, maca and others which were disappearing. Families are being taught how to make organic compost and humus using worms. They make foliar fertiliser out of the fermentation of manure. They learn to produce potato seeds from sprouts. This way, they save tubers which they can consume or sell, ensuring a more profitable and virus-free product which they can harvest a month earlier. All this brings cost savings and autonomy over the production of seeds. These are just some of the principles of agro-ecology being implemented in Canas.

Reports of the greatest successes indicate that agricultural productivity is doubling or even tripling, and that livestock yields are multiplying by, at the minimum, a factor of three. Normally, the nutritional cycle of community-dwelling peasants peaks over the three or four months following the harvest, after which there is a gradual decline towards starvation. The progress we are experiencing prolongs the peak period and we hope that the curve will become a plateau. Additionally, it increases cash income via the sale of livestock and secondarily processed products. Most families are experiencing three to five-fold increases in their monetary income. It is noteworthy that these increases come at a time when the Peruvian economy has been in recession since 1998 and are sustained on the reinvigoration of biodiversity.

This experience is being reproduced in 30 of the 108 districts of Cusco, with great results. The implementation is based on peer-to-peer training of peasants, and employs a methodology of experiential learning. Parallel to the fieldwork, this initiative is entering the realm of government policy through negotiation and intermediation between FDCC and the government of Alejandro Toledo.

The experience of Cusco opens up important developments in several fields:

Technological training, that is to say investment in knowledge is being used as a strategy to turn small scale production into a source of progress. Peer training among peasants leads to an exchange among equals, and a high cultural identification with the proposed alternative. Training by western professionals is impeded by a distrust that results from cultural differences.

The emergence of a family agro-industry generates added value to the benefit of the producers. The ideal is to develop a vast network which standardises quality but at the same time respects diversity. Such a local transformation allows the growth of the internal market by distributing the process of production among thousands of people. At the same time, it guarantees decentralisation. This way of working frees producers from dependence on profiteering producers in Lima, who typically retain profits of five to ten times more than the price paid to the peasant for the raw materials.

The creation of a new small scale infrastructure and production model type of industrial apparatus that aspires to supercede the current usurious, speculative, short-term, centralist, racist and neoliberal business class.

Community living peasants who are small scale producers; who are ancestrally organised as Peasant Communities; and who belong to Peasant Federations, become economically autonomous. They become skilled producers who manage their own technology, are efficient and effective and generate added value through high quality agro-ecological products. An invaluable advantage for these people is derived from their involvement in important social movements that are prevalent in rural society.

These small scale producers and their social organisations offer practical proof that it is possible to base the internal market on local production. The uncontrolled, exponential growth of food imports that we have witnessed in recent Peruvian history is therefore shown to be absurd. It is now necessary to redirect social policy from food aid and social assistance to productive models with the objective of increasing funding revenue. This would be achieved by the reduction of annual external debt payment, the exchange of debt for productive social investment, and by increasing tax revenue through making the rich pay more taxes.

If we were able to broaden and generalise FDCC's experience within Peru and extend it to other countries, we could be developing the basis for an alternative policy to that of the FTAA, derived from an agro-economic alternative offered by the poor and coming from a legitimate social movement. This would introduce diverse perspectives to create a more inclusive debate and develop into a powerful social force to confront the current, excluding and inhumane powers that be. The task is gigantic.

Carlos Paredes González
Advisor to the FDCC | ALCA/FTAA | Plan Puebla-Panamá | Peru |