Rural Development, Climate Change and Ancestral Technologies

Rural Development
In almost every developing country, we can hear the government boasting that it spent more money that year on rural development than the year before. The amount the NGOs spend annually on such projects is not small either. However, we can hardly see such investments producing progress in rural areas. Migration of rural populations to urban centers is on the rise. Those who stay behind in the villages see their socioeconomic conditions deteriorate daily. The rural ecosystems face ever-worsening conditions, because of agro-toxics or extractive industries.

Despite ever-increasing investment, the negative trends continue, because those resources are not focused towards alleviating the needs of each stakeholder in rural development. Who are those actors? What are their main issues?

Our mother earth should be the most important stakeholder in whatever type of development, because when she gets sick, all the living beings are severely affected. To date, the largest investments in rural areas focus on timber, mineral and petroleum extraction or on hydropower dams and highways, and we all know that their environmental impacts have never been positive.

We consider the rural community as the second most important actor. Development projects should prioritize safeguarding the community relationships, should respect local communal organization and reinforce family ties. However, not even in education or health-related projects, where the goal is improving social welfare, boosting relations among different rural actors never receive the priority. In reality, those projects leave the society further divided, because they give importance to external actors or institutions, ignoring local experts and their knowledge. In large infrastructure projects, their 'actions of social responsibility' make the locals dependent on external funds to realize whatever public act, thus destroying existing communal collaborative actions.

Rural entrepreneurs, such as vendors, farmers, artisans, also comprise an important sector in that society. Suppliers of essential items the community needs, their economic prosperity would anchor the development of the locality. Even though publicly funded development projects can't provide direct economic support to individuals, those projects should prefer buying their products, so that they can improve the quality of their products and services. Project administrators usually favor suppliers from big cities, which may help them achieve immediate goals, but it can never sustain the long-term goal of rural development.

All local institutions, including the local government, are important stakeholders in rural development. Usually, they bring in funds to the community without any prior notice, and the local population has no idea how and where that money is invested. The beneficiaries also do not insist on accountability of such help, probably out of fear that no more funds would come.  Some resign to saying, 'they may steal, but do build something'. Thus, the need to address the issue of transparency in local institutions, before attempting to develop rural facilities or improve local capacities.

Local technicians or extension officers act as intermediaries between the institutions and the rural population. They should play an important role in preventing white elephants (o monuments to ignorance) being built in the communities. They need some special training, beyond their academic titles, primarily to gain the confidence of the population, by demonstrating their disposition to work by the side of the locals. They should respect the opinions of all involved, especially of those more vulnerable, and communicate them to the administrators, instead of ordering people to comply with the requisites, like 'owners' of the project.

Climate Change
Since last decade, the meteorologists have been telling us that the average annual temperature is rising slowly, each year its value breaking the record set the year before. That means all living beings -humans, animals and plants- will consume more and more water, just as we would drink more water during a hot day. More water will evaporate from the soil, lakes, rivers and seas. The glaciers -our planet's 'bank' of pure water- will disappear block by block.  

Rainfall does not show a clear worldwide tendency of increasing or decreasing. However, the droughts seem to last longer, and when it rains, it pours, at ever increasing intensities. Additionally, the typical rainy season in any region is undergoing change. The cumulative result of all these alterations is that we will need more water for drinking and irrigation, while the reservoir levels keep dropping. Intense precipitations will cause more erosion and we can expect greater flood damages.

This climatic crisis would affect the whole world and could last for many generations of human life. Thus, we can't expect some external help to come and save us. It obliges us to adapt and cohabit with the climate change.

Ancestral technologies for rural development under a changing climate
We propose ancestral knowledge and practices as the best tools to adapt to climatic changes. To fulfill their daily individual and community needs, our ancestors did not have access to resources other than that are locally available. To improve their lifestyles, they carried out experiments using those resources, carefully observing and imitating how the nature works. Today, we have inherited millennium-old practices that gave the best results in their trials.

Filtration galaries - Nazca, Peru
We can analyze in detail the ancestral water nurturing practices to understand how our forefathers cohabited with the nature. They were able to forecast how the climate will affect their agricultural campaign in each valley, using nature-based signs -climatic phenomena, stars, plants and animals. During long droughts, they captured water from moisture-laden mist, or performed rituals pleading for rain. They trapped and stored rainwater without wasting a drop of it, preferring to store water in soil. That practice fitted perfectly with their farming techniques like terracing, and did not cost a penny extra. They intentionally recharged aquifers, especially in dry zones, and recaptured the groundwater through ingenious means. They used the captured water conservatively, without contaminating, to sustain the families until the next rains. Their teachings are valid not only for rural farms, but also for modern cities.

There is no need to look for recipes to apply these techniques: simply understand the reasons for their success in the original location, and adapt them to any other site, modifying them through small-scale experiments. That would be the best posthumous homage we can bestow upon those excellent field researchers.

Prepared by:
Kashyapa A. S. Yapa, Ph.D. (UC Berkeley)
1626, Juan de Lavalle, Riobamba, Ecuador.

January 2016.

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