Irrigation Project

An attempt to revive 
the Andean indigenous economy 
in Ecuador


Kashyapa A. S. Yapa

In spite of the four thousand meter altitude and the early morning hour, it does not feel cold today around the lakes of Ozogoche.  The rising sun is lighting up the cloudless blue sky and splashing gold over the mountain slopes, their majestic peaks slowly stir up from the night’s sleep pushing aside their soft white blankets, and the two immense lakes, trapped among the steep peaks, mirror all this without missing a detail.  This resplendent spectacle warms up the bodies and minds of all who have gathered today in the Ozogoche plateau to celebrate an unprecedented event.

Two autonomous political corporations, the municipal governments of Guamote and Alausí, both inhabited by the same Quechua speaking indigenous population, have left aside their territorial disputes and the bitter quarrels over meager provincial and national financial resources, and have met here, today, to work out a mechanism on sharing this valuable natural resource, the high plains (páramo) of Ozogoche.  Guamote intends to irrigate its parched lands with the waters of River Ozogoche, but, has to canalize it through the lands belonging to Alausí.  The geographic barriers make it impractical for Alausí to irrigate its dry lands using these waters, however, it wants to promote this beautiful landscape to attract national and international tourism.

The meeting in Ozogoche

The mayor of Alausí planted himself facing the gathering of inhabitants of the páramo and the aspirants of irrigation water; “…We won’t oppose our brothers of Guamote using these waters, because true progress transcends artificial political boundaries.  Let’s reach a compromise, though; you may take advantage of the river flow, but, please, please, help us conserve these wonderful lakes and their surroundings…”

The irrigation proponents won Alausí’s green light for the Project, yet, could they keep their end of the compromise?  Because, the preliminary Project design, prepared by a group of engineers, proposes building a regulatory reservoir just before the canal intake, which would flood both lakes and the plateau around them!   This and other technical aspects of the Project need a careful revision, taking the local socio-political and ecological reality into account, however, could the political organization of Guamote carry out the challenging task? 

Guamote and its population
Since achieving the municipality status in 1948, the minority mestizos (of mixed race) of Guamote, representing less than 5% of the total, had controlled the political power of the Municipality, that had been divided up into a handful of immense ranches, occupying the cold and dry central high plains of Ecuador (between 2800 and 4200 meters above sea level.)  The indigenous population managed to recover some of its ancestral lands from the ‘80s.  However, the system neocolonial political-economic system, practiced by both the central and the local governments, kept them severely oppressed.  

A market in Guamote

In 1992, the indigenous of Guamote broke open their political prison and emerged in the national scene, electing its first indigenous mayor.  Four more years later, coinciding with the resurgence of the national indigenous political movement, the natives of Guamote consolidated their power, by winning the majority in the municipal council.  Looking beyond the municipal bureaucracy, which stagnate the just and long repressed demands of the indigenous communities, the new political leadership gave birth to the first Municipal Indigenous Parliament in the country, in Guamote, permitting the community leaders a voice in prioritizing municipal public works and a platform for overseeing their execution.  Simultaneously, they created the Local Development Committee, an action group consisting of all local NGOs, that plans and implements integrated development projects within the municipality.  In today’s local government of Guamote, these three branches share the responsibility in looking after the welfare of its 32,000 inhabitants, who still struggle untiringly, simply to assure the survival of their families.

The parched lands of Guamote

The local population bases its survival on agricultural activities.  However, the greater part of the municipality suffers from a lack of rain, and sustaining a family through farming has become a Herculean task.  Their rain-based production permits only one harvest per year, if at all.  

Their plots continue to shrink in size because of increasing population pressure, and their productivity decreases because of environmental degradation.  Their only mobile wealth, the herds of cattle and sheep, can pasture only in the frigid and fragile páramo, due to lack of grass in lower areas.  Located above 3800m altitude, the previously collectively-owned páramo lands, now are partitioned for individual agricultural use, them being the only lands that contain sufficient humidity and virgin soil.  Excess pasturing and farming deteriorate rapidly the water retention capacity of these plateaus, further reducing the availability of water, not only for irrigation, but also for drinking.

The farmers dare not invest their meager resources in improving agricultural production, by fertilizing the soil, procuring better seeds, or taking protective measures against soil erosion, when their crops are at the mercy of unpredictable climatic variations.  An irrigation system would motivate them to invest, as it would guarantee a return.

Many rivers crisscross the municipal territory, but they don’t carry perennial flows, in sufficient quantities and at suitable elevations, that would allow their utilization for irrigation.  Some communities possess small irrigation canals; yet, they can irrigate only a very small area of the total.  Thus, the urgency, in building a system of irrigation that can cover an area large enough to justify the cost of canalizing water over long distances.

Conscious of the need to improve the living conditions of its inhabitants, the Local Government of Guamote elaborated, with active community participation, a Regional Development Plan, in which agricultural production and environmental conservation jointly lead the list of priorities.  The local authorities face a formidable challenge in developing mechanisms that help improve the agriculture while protecting the fragile natural resources.  Under this strategy, they have focused on the Ozogoche-Guamote Irrigation Project, which would directly benefit over a fifth of the population of the municipality.

Ozogoche River water as a solution
The indigenous communities of the main parish of Guamote, who suffer severely from frequent droughts, applied constant pressure till the exINERHI (The ex-National Water Resources Institute) began, in 1980, a study looking at the technical possibility of diverting a part of Ozogoche River water to that area for irrigation.  

The River begins at the lakes Cubillin and Magtayan, located within the parish of Achupallas, in the northeast corner of the Municipality of Alausí, and has a fairly stable and high flow, during the summer months of Guamote.  That study defined a project, at the prefeasibility level, that would irrigate some 5000 hectares in Guamote, by diverting the Ozogoche River through a long transbasin canal.

The lakes of Ozogoche

That animated the future beneficiaries of the project to form an organization, called CODIOIGPA (Corporation for integral development of indigenous organizations of Guamote-Palmira), which, through arduous struggles, managed to advance a part of the Project’s hydrologic and topographic studies in 1995, by combining financial and technical resources of some governmental and non-governmental organizations.

In 2002, through financial help from the Central Government and the Municipality, a part of the estimated cost of the Project’s feasibility study was collected, and was passed on to the Committee for Local Development (CDL) of Guamote.  The CDL put together a technical team, attracting primarily the regional talent, even including some future Project beneficiaries, and began elaborating the feasibility study in early March of 2002.

The Ozogoche-Guamote Irrigation Project, as defined in the Feasibility Study, proposes diverting a maximum of 3000 liters per second of water from River Ozogoche, using an intake at the altitude of 3730msl, located some 1200m downstream from its birthplace.  Its transbasin canal snakes around the mountain range for some 80km, to the point where it crosses the range, and then divides into two branches that distribute water to the irrigation parcels, the northern branch being 10km long and the southern one, 40km.  The 1582 families that aspire to benefit directly from the Project represent 36 communities and associations.  The zone of irrigation covers 5000 hectares approximately, located between the altitudes 3650msl and 3000msl, in the northeast quadrants of the parishes Guamote and Palmira and in the northwest quadrant of the parish of Cebadas.  The major commercial crops of the zone are potatoes, haba beans, corn, barley and pasture for animals.

Ozogoche-Guamote Transbasin canal and 
the communities that would benefit from it
(Bocatoma-Intake; Sifón-Siphon; Ramal Sur-Southern Branch)


Guamote assumes the challenge of modifying the Project
The red poncho of the mayor of Guamote stands out in the red sea of ponchos spread out over the páramo around the lakes of Ozogoche; “…I very much appreciate the magnanimous gesture of my colleague from Alausí.”  He continues, “And we gladly accept the challenge of preserving this beautiful landscape for the future generations of our nation.  Let’s show the world how we cohabit with our mother earth…”

The Sangay National Park, which encompasses the lakes of Ozogoche and a part of the community of Ozogoche Alto, was declared a Natural Patrimony of the Humanity by UNESCO; a strong argument for not erecting any structures that could alter its magnificent scenery.  The engineers who elaborated the prefeasibility study of the Project had paid attention to no such criteria but only to that of guaranteeing a constant flow in the irrigation canal, and had proposed building a 30m deep regulatory reservoir, that would engulf both the lakes and a greater part of the grassy plateau around them.  The flow of River Ozogoche doesn’t fluctuate much daily or weekly, because the two large lakes upstream act, to some extent, as regulatory reservoirs.  However, today, the degradation of the upper catchment has reduced the summer inflow to such a level that the river flow could vary from 7000 l/s in the rainy season to some 1000 l/s during the dry season.  Thus, without the help of a storage reservoir, the Irrigation Project, which hopes to capture 3000 l/s of flow, would face a deficit in certain months.  Yet, that deficit wouldn’t significantly affect the irrigation area in Guamote, because its dry season doesn’t coincide with that in Ozogoche.  The River Ozogoche is fed heavily off the rains delivered by the oriental winds, which coincide with a long dry spell in Guamote.  The River flow diminishes as the rains recede, and simultaneously, the demand for irrigation water will also diminish because, then, the wet season commences there.  The rains in Guamote don’t occur at the same intensity every year, and in some years, the demand for irrigation could exceed the flow available in the River.  A conscientious public, concerned about conserving the páramo, could assume this risk.  Furthermore, a concerted effort, aimed at preventing further degradation of the grasslands above the lakes of Ozogoche, could even increase the dry season flow of the River.

The indigenous political leadership of Guamote and the new technical team agreed on sacrificing the proposed reservoir, because that would reduce the environmental damage at Ozogoche and also significantly lower the total project budget.  But, what would the Project’s future beneficiaries say?  Following the practice of the Local Government of Guamote of allowing citizen input in all of its development plans, we, the CDL technical group, decided to actively incorporate all the potential users of the Project in the new design process, from the first stage.  We regularly convened meetings with user representatives, to inform them and to consult them about possible alternatives, before making any important decision with regard to the design.

At the first gathering of the future irrigators, we explained to them the available options and potential risks, involving the construction of a reservoir before the canal intake.  Some community leaders, who had heard the words of the mayor of Alausí at Ozogoche, and had interpreted them as a de facto opposition to the Project, now showed surprise learning about the minimal risk that signify the elimination of the reservoir.  Everyone knows about the deplorable conditions the páramos face in one’s own community, and so, all agreed about the need to conserve the River that would provide irrigation water for their parcels.  They unanimously voted to scrap the reservoir, but a seed of doubt continued to bother many minds: “how could we share the irrigation water during the times of deficit?”


Water partitioning- Chambo Project

Economy and justice in water allocation
The large State owned irrigation projects have become notorious for acts of water theft and wastage, and also for the difficulties in collecting sufficient funds for maintenance.  To get a closer look at this situation, we visited a few large projects nearby, accompanied by the leadership of CODIOIGPA.  

Those projects have histories completely different to ours.  Almost always, State entities had planned and built them, and then, handed them over to the users, with hardly any user participation in the previous stages.  Their problems begin there: the users do not identify themselves as owners of the infrastructure.  They treat the systems as someone else’s, and even purposely cause damage; do not value the water, steal it and waste it.  The water tariff system doesn’t encourage saving water either.  It charges the user for his surface of land available for irrigation, without any regard to actual area of cultivation, the type of crop grown, or its seasonal water needs.  “Why should I economize on water, if they charge me the same, whatever the case?” responds the user.

Those experiences helped us incorporate the concepts of austerity, equity and social justice, the basic governing principles in Guamote, into the Project’s water allocation system.  All of its future beneficiaries plan to bear the burden of the Project’s construction and maintenance, sharing equally their manual labor and their meager financial resources.  So, justice dictates that all should receive equal water rights.  After analyzing this issue in detail during various meetings, they agreed on this mechanism.  It would also prevent distribution-related conflicts in water-deficient projects like ours.  During the droughts, the individual water right would be proportional to the flow that can be captured from the river.

Within an indigenous community in Guamote, each member possesses more or less the same amount of cultivable land, even though some communities collectively own much more land than others.  The differences in access to land and other resources make possible the scenario, where, at times, some users would not be able to use all the irrigation water allocated to them, while others would like to use water in excess of their allocation.  The technical team recommends the use of 0.6 l/s per hectare of an average plot of land.  We designed a tariff system, based primarily on the volume of water consumed, instead of the amount of land available for irrigation, which promotes efficient water use and avoids punishing unjustly the farmer incapable of using her/his full allocation.  This system benefits the efficient farmer because s/he can irrigate more land using the same amount of water, by improving the soil characteristics of the land and by adopting optimum irrigation techniques.  This also would avoid irregular water transactions among the farmers.  Resolving the question of how to redistribute water between those who have water in excess and those who need more water, we decided to leave in the hands of each community’s Irrigation Users Association, to be established on par with the Project’s construction.

The Users Association, or in its place, the Communal Leadership of each community, should assume the responsibility of the construction, operation and maintenance, of the secondary canal that brings water to the community and the rest of the structures that distribute water to individual lots.  Because of the intimate interdependent relationships that prevail among the community members, we believe that a communal organization, rather than any external entity, would have a better chance at mediating in the conflicts caused by irrigation water distribution.  Moreover, it could take into consideration the collective benefit and design a just redistribution scheme, in times of deficit or in the case of someone possessing water in excess.

All users would have a hand in the Project
The sun escaped the clouds still clinging to Ozogoche peaks and brightens the smiling face of the President of CODIOIGPA, who doesn’t hide his satisfaction for having achieved two long sought and fiercely fought goals: first, the funds to complete the Feasibility Study, and now, the go-ahead from the authorities of Alausí.  Speaking on behalf of over 1500 future beneficiaries, he explains briefly the long struggle they had waged.  “…We really appreciate the efforts by everyone who has given us a hand in this arduous task, of assuring a better future for our children and grandchildren.  We won’t fail you; we won’t relax till Ozogoche water trickles into all of our lots, no matter how hard we would have to work for it.  We all will contribute as much of our manual labor as we can, first, to reduce the Project’s cost, and second, to make the Project our own, in its true sense.”

Not just the beneficiaries, but also the Local Government of Guamote, want to reduce the Project’s budget.  It wants to administrate the Project construction directly, through the CDL, if its economic feasibility can be established.  Therefore, we, the technical team of the Feasibility Study, had to assume the challenge of designing an economically viable project, and designing it making the best use of available local resources, such as, the materials of construction and the technical capability.

The prefeasibility study had recommended carrying the canal through the mountain range between the Ozogoche/Cebadas river basin and that of River Atapo, using a 4000m long tunnel.  However, the topography permits crossing that range without a tunnel, at a saddle point at its northern end, but that requires building a long open channel hugging the range.  The exINERHI engineers had discarded this option, citing possible geological problems and the high costs associated with a longer canal.  A tunnel that long would force the Local Government to hire an international contractor with that kind of expertise, raising, as a consequence, the Project’s cost to extremely high levels.  On the other hand, in the construction of an open channel, we can efficiently incorporate the most abundant local resource, the manual labor of the beneficiaries in the form of community volunteer service.  Thus, we proposed the alternative of an open channel instead of the long tunnel to the Users’ Assembly, and they accepted it.  This option also allows incorporating a few more communities as beneficiaries and amplifying the zone of irrigation.  Posterior geological investigations confirmed our suspicions about the viability of the tunnel: it crosses, head-on, the regional geological fault Peltetec, and its construction would have been extremely risky and costly.

The previous study had also recommended paving the entire length of the canal with a thick concrete layer.  Along the trajectory of the canal, the bulk of the construction materials needed for such a lining, sand and gravel, are very scarce, and the long hauling distances make the new, extended canal a prohibitively expensive item. That forced us to investigate alternative canal lining materials.  We built experimental canal liners at two running watercourses, using highly compacted, sun-dried, soil-cement bricks, that employ the same soil to be excavated from the future canal.  The first, installed in River Guamote, measures the resistance of the material to erosion, and the other, in San Vicente irrigation canal, measures its durability.  The resistance to erosion of soil-cement blocks has been well proven, but the investigation on durability requires long-term observations.

Experimental canal section in
River Guamote

Experimental section in
Canal San Vicente

Typically, concrete-lined canals are designed with a trapezoidal cross-section to facilitate the placement of concrete.  However, soil-cement lining can be placed without difficulty in a semicircular shaped canal, which will also have better flow characteristics, reduced volume of excavation, and more importantly, will permit efficient use of unskilled manual labor during both the construction and the maintenance.  Therefore, we recommend continuing with the investigations on the use of soil-cement lining, and using it for canal sections, where rock excavation is small and where the canal gradient doesn’t exceed its regular value, 1:1000.  According to our preliminary estimates, this alternative in lining the canal would reduce the total project budget by approximately 30%.

Who decides where to irrigate?
The Project’s zone of irrigation occupies a very irregular topography, between the altitudes 3650 and 3000msl, containing deep ravines among individual hills and mountain ridges.  Lands suitable for irrigated cultivation occur on small plateaus on top of hills and in intermediate valleys, separated by medium to steeply sloping terrain.

In the prefeasibility study, only the valley plateaus or the gently sloping terrains were designated as the irrigable zone, strictly following the technical norms dictated by exINERHI.  However, the reality doesn’t concur with rigid technical criteria: the farmers have other criteria, equally valid.  “Cultivating in the plateau is very risky; at times freeze sets in and we could lose all.  Moreover, those lands are too far from our homes.  We want to grow and irrigate in medium sloping lots, closer to the village.”  They sure have a long tradition of cultivating in slopes without losing the topsoil.  For example, when they have irrigation water, they wouldn’t grow anything but pasture on steep slopes.  

Therefore, we decided to let the farmer choose his best lots for irrigation, under the guidance of a technician.  Each community is usually divided into several sectors, delimited naturally by stream-heads, and the members would have at least one lot in each sector.  The cultivation capability varies significantly from sector to sector because of the topography and the soil type.  

Selecting the lots to irrigate

Working with community leaders, we established an irrigation ranking among the sectors, to facilitate the design of secondary and tertiary canals.  We included a 25% margin in defining the design flow of tertiary canals, to allow for future changes in lot preferences by the farmers. 

We also considered the need to build reservoirs to store irrigation water at night, as irrigating at night is problematic because of the low temperatures and the steep gradients.  However, the lack of sizable communal tablelands precludes building large storage tanks.  Building group or family-owned small reservoirs (of 20 to 30 cubic meters) could solve the problem, and they could be constructed, to a great extent, using the resources of the farmers themselves.

Mechanically tilled  páramo

Minimizing environmental impacts – everyone shares the responsibility
During the last 20 years, the fragile ecosystem of Ozogoche plateau has deteriorated at an alarming rate.  With the recent arrival of a graveled road up to the lakes themselves and the extension of the national power grid to nearby communities, combined with rising economic expectations through tourism fueled by both local and provincial authorities, the social and economic pressures on this precious and delicate páramo have increased rapidly.  

The human population continues to rise, and consequently, rises the demand for agricultural lands, later tilled by machinery and cultivated with agrochemicals.  The animal population has also gone up dramatically.  The indigenous communities that surround the zone admit their responsibility in the destruction; “Unlike in the old times, the páramo continues to dry out and we are forced to go higher and higher, year after year, seeking lands apt for agriculture and pasture.  What other alternative we have?”

For decades, River Ozogoche has fed various irrigation projects and also a hydropower scheme.  Yet, till now, nobody has a plan for conserving its upper catchment, neither has offered viable economic alternatives to the inhabitants there to stop further destruction.  If the current tendency continues, irrespective of whether the irrigation project for Guamote is built or not, one can visualize grave negative environmental consequences in Ozogoche, in the near future.  It motivated us to convene, from the first days of the Study, the representatives of all the inhabitants of the catchment, of all the irrigation users and of all the governmental and non-governmental organizations that are interested in the issue, for a series of meetings, to analyze strategies for upper catchment management, including the possibility of channeling water use payments for environmental protection.  As a result, a joint management plan emerged, that establishes various economic alternatives for the indigenous population of Ozogoche, like ecotourism, introduction of less destructive and more profitable pasture animals, and improvement of pasture in the lower, already impacted zone.  The benficiaries, in turn, should modify their role in the zone, from rapacious destructors to conscientious guardians.

The Project’s water intake structure and the transbasin canal would also cause certain environmental damages to the area surrounding the River and would bring certain inconveniences to the communities living along the canal’s trajectory.  The first four kilometers of the canal lie within the limits of Sangay National Park, and we designed the structures trying hard not to tarnish that majestic landscape.  At the kilometer 8 of the canal, we designed a short tunnel to penetrate a rock outcrop, instead of carrying the canal around it, which would have spilled excavated boulders on the village center of Ozogoche Bajo, right underneath.  The canal crosses various gently sloping swamps, and to prevent them being drying out, through those stretches, we decided to dig the canal deeper and cover it.  Small footbridges, erected at every 250m along the full length of the canal, would facilitate the passage of the farmers and the animals over it.  A 6m wide road would be built parallel to the canal, which would provide access not only to the canal, but also to various neighboring communities.  When the canal would have to cross very steep rocky slopes, we adopted a minimum-width platform, in which the access road climbs on top of the canal, now covered with a concrete slab.  This avoids tall, steep slope cuts, minimizing the risk of future rock or mud slides, and also reduces the volume of rock excavation.  The canal would also have a large number of spills and bottom discharges, especially where it crosses large streams, that can rapidly evacuate the water in emergencies, like canal rupture or blockage due to slides.

Within the irrigation zone, the canal would bring more benefits than damages.  With the construction of the canal, the farmers could be persuaded to limit the agricultural boundary at the altitude of the canal and to take conservation measures in the higher plateaus.  With the irrigation water assured, they would be willing to invest their meager resources in improving the productivity of their parcels.  They admit the lack of soil conservation practices, reforestation with native plants and product diversification.  To get the most out of their production, they also request help in commercializing them.

Integrated solutions for the irrigation zone
The hundreds of future water users who gathered around the Ozogoche lakes to celebrate the beginning of the Feasibility Study of the irrigation project, anxiously awaited the speech of the technical director of the Study.  “…Please rest assured that we won’t fail you” he soothes their anxieties, “We know that your myriads of problems won’t go away, simply with the arrival of water.  We would like everybody to get involved in searching for an integrated solution.  Please send your kids, grandkids, those who are studying now and who want to learn more, to take part with us in that search.  They are the ones who will operate and maintain the Project.  So, let’s all investigate and learn together how to solve our problems little by little.  Let’s begin with a Pilot Project…”

We designed the Pilot Project to test various strategies in solving the long-standing problems that affect the irrigation zone, and we implemented it from the first days of the Study.  In the communities that already have small irrigation canals, we put into practice a training program on different irrigation techniques.  We used a small amount of financial help to improve their existing infrastructure, and through that, tried to reorganize and strengthen the administration of the same. 

Six communities that reside in the catchment of River Atapo were persuaded to work together to build a common irrigation canal.  The communal organizations that united to share that canal are also working together to preserve this valuable resource, by controlling the entry of pasture animals to upper catchment areas and planting native trees around water springs.  

A meeting of the Pilot Project 

The community members pooled together soil, fertilizer and manual labor to produce a great number of native plants at a central nursery, which, later, will be divided among themselves, for replanting in stream-heads and also for installing wind curtains in their parcels.

The future beneficiaries of Ozogoche waters have already begun skills building programs that train them on soil conservation techniques, preparing and applying organic fertilizer, and on reintroducing a variety of traditional crops in their home and school gardens.  A nutritionist helps them to incorporate locally available, healthy and cheap foods to their daily diets to improve family health.  The Pilot Project also provides assistance in improving the feeding practices and the health of their productive animals.  As another aspect of improving the productivity of the zone, a proposal on reorganizing the commerce of local products in nearby markets was presented to the Municipality of Guamote.  We strongly recommend the Local Government of Guamote to continue with the Pilot Project, with proper evaluations and adjustments, to help the future users of Ozogoche waters maximize their benefits.

Project’s economic evaluation with emphasis on social benefits
For the Ozogoche-Guamote Irrigation Project to be economically viable, the benefits the Project would bring, should surpass the cost of initial investment on civil works plus the annual costs of operation and maintenance.  The future beneficiaries are ready to share their manual labor to reduce the costs of both construction and maintenance, and the Project’s civil works were designed to make full use of this valuable resource.  The costs we estimated to evaluate the Project reflect this saving.  Those also include the cost of the environmental management plan for the upper catchment area and that of the skills building program for the irrigation zone.

The principal economic benefits the Project would bring include, the increase in farmers’ earnings, the savings reflected by the reduction in city migration of villagers and the reduction in family health problems helped by better dietary practices.  The farmers’ incomes would increase because they would invest more on their parcels with a guaranteed supply of water, and the availability of training and technical advise would help further.  However, according to Andean indigenous living styles, one can’t measure those benefits through rigid financial accounting techniques, but through a careful evaluavation of gradual improvements in their socioeconomic conditions.  Therefore, we decided to take into account the above savings that reflect the reduction of indigenous family expenses.

A comparison of the costs and the benefits of the Project, considering all the different alternatives, like the two options for canal lining and the use manual labor remunerated or as unpaid voluntary community service, permitted us to deduce that the Project is economically viable under every possible alternative.  Its economic feasibility (reflected by the Internal Rate of Return for the investment realized) improves considerably under the option of soil-cement canal lining, built using voluntary manual labor (IRR = 21.35%).  

River Ozogoche in a hurry

A future based on Andean economy
At the end of the meeting by the Ozogoche lakes, all the participants walked down the River, from its birthplace at the lakes to the point where the canal intake will be built.  At times, the water runs in a hurry, jumping over one boulder, crashing onto another, producing spontaneously the white foam, but it runs underneath without ever stopping to greet us.  Occasionally, different flumes collide, splashing us involuntarily, with thousands of pearls, transparent and frigidly cold.

At other stretches, the river slides smoothly, exposing, under the brilliant sun, its multi-colored bottom full of algae that dance cabaret, paying homage to the visitors.  For Ozogoche, famous for its freezing winds, gray skies and constant drizzles, this is a totally different day, indicating, probably, a birth of a different future.

River Ozogoche calm & quiet 

We designed this Irrigation Project betting on such a future, a brighter future with a different economy; an economy where not the numbers and formulas, but the Andean indigenous faces would dominate.  We wagered our hopes on: that a local government, elected, directed and supervised by its people, like that of Guamote, should have the capacity to lead and administrate the construction of a development project so important for its population; That the urgent need to supply irrigation water to the suffering people of Guamote should have priority over many other uses of the same waters; That despite the scarcity of financial resources to completely fund the Project, their strong communal organization and their fierce will and cooperative discipline should mobilize other resources that would be sufficient to successfully complete it.

We want the Ozogoche-Guamote Irrigation Project to achieve its full potential, reflecting the recently assumed political consciousness of the indigenous communities, and also, their traditional environmental practices: where, the natural resources would not just serve a few, rich and powerful, but the collectivity, especially the most needy; And where, the natural resources are treated not as things we inherited from our ancestors, but as things we received on loan from our descendents. 

-June 2003, 
Riobamba, Ecuador.

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