By Giulia Pedone
Day 1. Quequeña
It was 6am when we left Lima and the salty breeze of the coast to fly towards Arequipa, over 2000 metres in the Southern Highlands of Peru. Here our journey begins, a one week Learning Route that will guide us through the rural areas of the Arequipa Department offering the opportunity to learn from the successful experiences supported by the SIERRA SUR IFAD-funded project directly from the people that are managing and implementing these activities.
We are a heterogeneous group, mostly composed by Vietnamese representatives from IFAD projects, which have been travelling during more than 2 days crossing the globe from East to West to reach the shining mountains of the Sierra, and by the management team of the IFAD Sierra Norte Project, Peru. Despite of the tiredness and the few hours of sleep, our Vietnamese colleagues look fresh and excited to participate at this unique experience of mutual learning.
The Learning Route has been designed by PROCASUR jointly with the local management team of IFAD projects in Vietnam to explicitly respond to Vietnamese’ needs. In this framework, 3 main topics have been identified as priority areas to be addressed during the Route: 1. public, transparent and competitive ways for allocating resources through public contests; 2. development of rural business and access to market and; 3. public and private partnerships for rural development. These issues will be framed within a broader context, which will include value chains, cultural assets, gender, NRM and participatory planning under territorial approaches, among others.
The first day of the Route is intended to brief participants on IFAD long term trajectory and operations in Peru, main achievements and current challenges, and to define the context in which the Route will be articulated. But, even more, this first day provides the opportunity to get together and break the ice, know each other and from each other, strengthening among participants the feeling of being part of a group which will share ideas, meals and mountain roads during the following days.
We reach Quequeña by road, passing through the white city of Arequipa and the mountainous, dried landscapes of the Sierra; our Vietnamese colleagues are amazed by seeing how local people was able to take advantage of such apparently hostile natural environment.. as it will be remarked, this is an example of the power of local knowledge we have to capitalise on!
We just stepped into the Route, but we are already Learning..
Day 2. Sibayo
The bus climbs up the twisting roads of the Sierra during more than 4 hours before reaching the village of Sibayo, province Caylloma, Arequipa Department. The name Sibayo in Quechua means “the city of stones” and actually the community is made up of low stone houses with thatched roof. The stones shine under the bright light of midday and the altitude makes a bit hard to breath (we are almost at 3810 meters over the sea level); the place is clean and peaceful, surrounded by green mountains. We are warmly welcomed by the women and men of the ASITUR Association, which since 2006 is managing the experience of “convivial tourism” with Sibayo’s families.
During the day we have the chance to get together with the members of ASITUR, as well as with local authorities and with the local association of women artisans, and to learn from them about the innovative experience of Sibayo, or to say it in other words, about how Sibayo’s population was able to step out from poverty by revitalizing and investing in their own culture.
Indeed, when the idea of investing in sustainable tourism first came out, Sibayo’s community was close to collapse. The presence of gold mines, the increasing traffic on the main (close) road and the lack of opportunity for local people had led to a progressive depopulation of the area. It has been thanks to the long-term vision of capable local authorities, the commitment of local population and the support of the SIERRA SUR Project that tourism activities first started to be developed. Within a few years, the situation of Sibayo has radically changed. Today, there are approximately 25 “hosting” families directly involved in tourism activities, while others indirectly benefit from tourism by selling their products (mostly trout, local vegetables and alpaca’s meat) and handicraft or organizing excursions, trekking and rafting activities for the foreign guests. The revenues are invested in training aimed at improving the quality of the service, as well as in improvements in infrastructures, education and savings. From this year, the tourism experience is completely sustainable and the Association is using its own money to pay for external training services.
Tourism didn’t bring only money: thanks to this experience, local people has been incentivized to recover their own cultural patrimony, to improve the quality of their alimentation and to progressively acquire self-confidence in their own capabilities. This has been particularly key for women that have been able to overcome their initial resistance to speak in front of foreign peoples, and therefore to present and sell their products out of the village. Women started to recover the ancient art of embroidery and to participate to local, regional and national fairs to sell their handicrafts, getting more and more experience and success.
Indeed, the successful experience of Sibayo has been made possible thanks to the conjunction of a set of positive factors, such as the presence of a fertile social environment, the commitment of rural people to get together and collaborate and the positive attitude of local authorities, which have been able to recognize the potentiality of this experience and to invest in it since the very beginning. As Raul Mamani, major of Sibayo Municipality pointed out, the strengthening of synergies between authorities and local people and the active participation of this last in project’s activities are fundamental in order to ensure the sustainable development of new income-generating activities.
So, a first lesson we can learn from Sibayo’s experience, is the need of creating opportunities for rural people by combining these two aspects, local people participation and policy dialogue. Indeed, successful experiences are those that respond to people’s needs and ambitions and that therefore can count on the engagement and long-term commitment of the people that will directly benefit from them. At the same time, it is important to raise awareness among local governments, bridging the gap between people and their authorities and opening up opportunities for collaboration with mutual benefits, so to create a political environment able to respond to local people’s needs.
(to be continued…)
By Giulia Pedone