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Beginnings at Cusichaca

Thumbnail image Machu Picchu, only 20 kms downriver from Cusichaca. The Trust was first established to carry out archaeological investigation at sites in the Cusichaca valley (see map) close to the famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu.
space Thumbnail image View of largely abandoned lands above the confluence of the Cusichaca and Urubamba rivers, before restoration of the Quishuarpata canal. Much of the programme of research and excavation was concerned with the Incas' agricultural exploitation of this region. It was clear that before the Incas arrived here the area was already well populated and cultivated. But they went even further and set about remodeling the landscape - constructing formidable systems of agricultural terraces, extending earlier irrigation canals and building new ones. Local populations were evidently relocated to exploit the land more intensively and one of the area's main functions would have been to provide Machu Picchu with maize, the Incas' most sacred staple crop.
space Thumbnail image The Cusichaca camp, 1978. Ann's team was made up of British and Peruvian specialists and students, helped by volunteers from many different countries. Among the specialists were soil scientists, botanists and environmentalists whose contributions enabled Ann to establish that in Inca times, when the canals and terraces were fully functioning, the Cusichaca drainage could have fed some 5,000 people. Yet, by the 1980s, there were only 15 families in the lower valley practicing subsistence farming amongst the remains of terraces and canals that were largely broken down and abandoned. So, why not try to re-use the ancient infrastructure today?
space Thumbnail image Members of the local community who welcomed us amongst them. A pilot scheme was begun to restore the 7 km long Quishuarpata canal, which had originally fed two ancient terrace systems. Local families shared the work, guided by an experienced stonemason whose regular job was restoring Inca ruins. Restoration of the canal was completed in 1983 and in collaboration with KAYRA, the agricultural research station of Cuzco University, CT rehabilitated the terraces to produce a wide range of crops, including maize, broad beans and traditional Andean grains such as quinoa and kiwicha. The impact of the restoration was immediate.
space Thumbnail image Restoration of the Quishuarpata canal.  Some 45 hectares, barren for centuries, flourished again under irrigation and local farmers, barely self-sufficient before, began to market a considerable agricultural surplus. The community as a whole was revitalized and acquired a new sense of what they could achieve. A study 10 years later showed that the local school had expanded, the first ever chapel in the area had been built and the population had not just stabilized but increased. There was now more of an incentive for young people to stay on the land.
space Thumbnail image Once neglected lands productive again under irrigation. From the experimental work at Cusichaca emerged a simple yet novel concept for rural development. With a minimum of technical assistance, poor farming communities could begin to solve many of their problems themselves, by exploiting the long-neglected potential of their own past.