We are sitting in the beach-front barrio of Barranco under a once again grey Lima sky relaxing in a cafe after another danger-taxi-ride through the aggressive traffic. We have just had a 90min meeting and interview with Grimaldo Rengifo Vásquez one of the founders of PRATEC (Proyeto Andinas de Tecnologías Campesinas) a grassroots network of organisations working with indigenous communities throughout Peru through a perspective that values and seeks to strengthen Andean knowledge and practices. The organisation was started in 1986 by Grimaldo Rengifo Vásquez, Eduardo Grillo, Francois Greslou and Marcela Velásquez development and agronomy professionals who were dissastified with the development models that had were being unquestionably applied across Peru and elsewhere.
As Frederique Apffel-Marglin wrote in a wonderful article about PRATEC in 2002.
In the course of their professional activities they eventually came to the conclusion that development itself was the problem. This realisation did not come swiftly; it emerged slowly after a lifetime of professional activity in the service of development. At first they thought that things were not working because the methodologies that they used were faulty. They worked hard to devise better methodologies. They lived through many phases and fashions in development: community development; participatory development; appropriate technology; sustainable development; women and development. They tried everything available, always striving to capture the reality of Andean peasant agriculture and of peasant life in general. At long last they came to the conclusion that no methodology would ever deliver and that the problem lay in the very idea of development. It is at this juncture that they left their professional activities and their secure jobs and founded PRATEC, a non-governmental organisation. In other words, they deprofessionalised themselves. They had come to the realisation that development had failed. The evidence lay scattered throughout the Peruvian landscape in what some of their colleagues have called ‘the archaeology of development’, namely ruined infrastructures, abandoned to the elements after the project officials had left, uncared for by the peasants for whom they were intended and left to deteriorate. The evidence also lay in their experience of repeated efforts to devise better methodologies and the final realisation that within their professional perspective and constraints it was impossible to approximate peasant reality and therefore make development relevant to their lives.
From Fieldwork to Mutual Learning: Working with PRATEC. Environmental Values 11 (2002): 345–67
I especially like this image of an archaeology of development, the ruined traces of failed schemes dreamnt up elsewhere with different visions of the good life, now scattered across the landscape overgrowing with plants and home to birds and insects. I guess that the PRATEC team considers the landscape of development ideas to be similarly littered with half-baked schemes, now laying useless on the ground at the mercy of the elements, designed in the distant offices of some large organisation far away from the day to day lives of the peoples here in Peru. And in the picture below, just how many different cosmovisions, different models of how to develop towards the good life!
In our meeting with Grimaldo he conveyed to us the story of the emergence of the organisation in the mid-1980s amidst a climate of violence and conflict in the country following from the guerrilla uprisings. Decades of development projects, the effects of this conflict and of state-supported neoliberal encroachment on indigenous lands and resources had left these populations in a desperate state, destroying the cultural base or social fabric that had sustained these communities for thousands of years. The conflict with the guerrillas alone, Grimaldo told us, had killed 70,000 people, the majority indigenous.
From this period of the 1980s on, Grimaldo said that a new period of rebuilding had started amongst these groups and PRATEC had been a partner in this process. In Grimaldo’s case, and in the trajectory of PRATEC, this has involved coming to understand a different culture and cosmovision (a way of seeing and being in the universe) from his own. For Grimaldo the cosmovision of the Peruvian Andes was different to the Amazonian campesino culture where he was raised but also from the academic agronomy in which he trained in university. The fundamental and sustaining base of this Andean culture is agriculture and a cosmovision of crianza or nurturance that characterises people’s relationship to nature.
We often came across this word crianza, we heard it in the town of Lamas, where the local project Wama Wasi, part of the PRATEC network, works with Quechua Lamas communities in this upper Amazon region. We heard it in our conversations with Elena Pardo in Cusco, from CEPROSI (Centro de Promoción y Salud Integral), also a part of the PRATEC network, which works with Quechua communities surrounding this region of the high Andes.
We loved this term crianza, it has a depth and beauty to it conveying the heart of this cosmovision that is widespread in this region. It also has deep resonances with Kelly’s previous post on Maize and milpa in Mexico, and on the buffalo in Alberta. In our understanding the term crianza means that people help create and sustain, or nurture, nature whereas nature in turn helps to create, sustain and nurture people. The relationship is one of kinship, of the same family, and as such quite different from a habitual way we have come to understand ‘agriculture’ where crops are ‘produced’. For here in ‘agriculture’ there is no sense that the ‘agri’ the crops, are also ‘producing’ us. This relationship, practice and understanding of ‘nature’ being outside of us and manipulated by us for our our ends, and increasingly purely commercial ends, is replaced by a sense of mutuality and reciprocity. I help the plants grow because they help me grow, and we are both part of a larger life collectivity which is, in this cosmovision, our mother earth, a living being that keeps us all alive.
The uniqueness of PRATEC has been to practice a deep listening and learning from the indigenous communities they work with. Rather than begin with the view of ‘experts’ schooled in a particular cosmovision with keywords such as ‘progress’, ‘development’, ‘poverty-reduction’, ‘increasing yields’, ‘growing GDP’, ‘crop production’, PRATEC has instead payed attention to the values and cultural practices that have sustained the life of these communities in these places for thousands of years. Coming to know these values and practices, such as that of crianza but also those surrounding the chacra, the actual field or place where the nurturance is practiced and which makes up most of the community’s working life, was the first step in the trajectory of PRATEC and its founders. We will write more on the chacra in a later post though just briefly we could observe how central this was for the Quechua Lamas communities we came to know and how similar to the Mexican milpa this was (see Kelly’s posts on Maize and Milpa).
PRATEC’s next stage, as Grimaldo narrates in our interview, involved disseminating this particular understanding of close listening and knowing to others. To this end they spent a period of over fifteen years conducting courses across Peru to different groups of professionals and students. This gradually led to a consolidation of a group of people across the country, development and agriculture professionals, teachers and community activists, who were keen to practice this alternative approach to development. PRATEC’s next phase of work has then been guided to strengthening these local practices and systems so as to fulfil not an external expert’s conception of the good life, or of development, but to actualise what this means for the people themselves.
All of this has involved a great deal of unlearning and of re-learning from the people who work at PRATEC, comprised amongst others of university educated agronomists, agricultural engineers, educationalists, and others. Like Grimaldo, others we talked to in PRATEC describe this process of questioning the assumptions they learned in these academic and development institutions and in the cosmovision that sustained the forms of knowledge and values that were reproduced here.
So pervasive and powerful has been the force of this cosmovision promoting a particular kind of technology-driven and market-oriented development and progress, that one important strand of PRATEC’s work with local communities involves redressing the de-valuing of indigenous ways of life which has been happening since the arrival of the Spanish five hundred years ago. What has been interesting to note is that though many of PRATEC’s founders and those they work with now started in the field of agronomy most of them now are actively involved in working in the area of education. As Grimaldo says the latest stage in PRATEC’s trajectory has been to work with schools and with education policy as a way of strengthening local ways of knowing. Important in this shift is also the work of Elena Pardo in and around Cusco, someone who does have a background in education and worked for many years in the Ministry of Education before starting CEPROSI. Here in Peru, as in Mexico and Canada, we found the school as a key institution for the dismantling or the reproduction of a particular cosmovision. How PRATEC and its affiliated organisations work with schools is the topic of the next few posts.
PRATEC’s approach to development, some label it ‘post-development’, is both well-known across Peru and internationally and is both respected and controversial. It challenges thinking about who the experts are, who should have the right to impose development (particularly with certain ideas of progress) on a community, what kind of development or conception of the good life ought to underpin these. When we visited one of PRATEC’s many umbrella organizations (this one called Waman Wasi) in the upper Amazon region of Lamas, we were told how the area is filled with different development initiatives by numerous organisations, each with its own set of experts, advice and models. Some offer incentives for the Quechua Lama to grow coffee or cacao for export. The rationale is that the Quechua Lama ought to enter into the global monetary economy to meet their needs, as they are money poor. For Wama Wasi, whom we spent time with, this approach does not recognise the self-sufficiency of these communities and the food security they already have, nor how the chacra embodies a cosmovision that sustains a whole way of life, not only materially, but also culturally, in terms of family roles and relations, and spiritually. Though they are money poor their sense of the good life, buen vivir, is found not in having and owning stuff, but in relation to crianza, to the chacra, and to other elements of their cosmovision that supports their being in the world.