A road and the lives it links
Social investments are making the construction of the South InterOceanic Highway a source
of development for the communities along its route
Written by: Márcio Polidoro
Photos by: Guilherme Afonso<
Damian Machaca: “There are only a few of us here, but this is a great day for everyone”
“Kausachun, kausachun, kausachun.” This standard greeting in the Quechua language impresses visitors, who are received with a shower of confetti and streamers thrown by men, women and children dressed in their finest clothing. They are saying “Long live Brazil,” “Long live Peru,” and “Long live the visitors.”
We are in the rural community of Accocunca, in the Andes mountains. It is located in Ocongate county, around 150 km north of Cusco, in south central Peru.
It is August 14th, a Thursday in the southern-hemisphere winter. The afternoon sun is bright, the sky is blue, and the incessant cold wind stings the children’s faces. But everyone seems happy. The community room, a kind of patio surrounded by adobe buildings, is decorated with colored balloons and there will be music and dancing to celebrate a day that has become very important for the local inhabitants and visitors alike.
The community is made up of 200 families that live sprawled out across the mountain, raising cattle, sheep, llamas and alpacas on small lots situated between 4,200 m and 4,800 m above sea level. The visitors are members of iSur, the South InterOceanic Initiative, and reporters from Odebrecht Informa magazine.
A social investment program, iSur is the result of a strategic alliance led by Odebrecht whose primary objective is to ensure that the South InterOceanic Highway – which will connect Iñapari, on the border Peru shares with the Brazilian state of Acre, to the ports of Ilo, Matarani and San Juan de Marcona, on the coast of Peru – will become a source of integration, conservation and development for the people that live along its route by developing work and income generation projects.
The projects proposed by iSur will be carried out along the 710-km route connecting Iñapari to Urcos (segments 2 and 3 of the highway), being built through a public-private partnership by Conirsa, a joint venture of Odebrecht (70%), Graña y Montero (19%), JJC Contratista Generales (7%) and ICCGSA (4%).
After completing the project, the joint venture will be responsible for the operation and maintenance of that segment of the highway for 25 years, according to the concession contract. Conirsa is also a partner in iSur, together with two NGOs: Conservación Internacional-Perú and Pro-Naturaleza; and two financing partners: Corporación Andina de Fomento (CAF) and Fondo de las Americas.
The execution of this social outreach program, which is also financed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), is the responsibility of Asociación Odebrecht Perú, the equivalent of the corporate foundations in Brazil, which was created to implement iSur and to represent the Odebrecht Group in its social projects in Peru.
“Pago a la tierra”
The reason for the party that Thursday was the delivery of 20 male alpacas to the community – studs selected to give a start to the work of genetically improving local herds.
The alpaca, a domestic species of South American camelid that is adapted to life at high altitudes, is the basis of the local economy and provides both meat and the wool women spin into thread. Then they themselves weave it to produce the colorful garments their community wears, as well as making the distinctive local handicrafts.
Damian Machaca Yucra, the President of the Accocunca community, sums up the feelings of everyone present at the event: “There are only a few of us here, but this is a great day for everyone. The improvement of our animals will result in better meat and better handicrafts, and the way we are welcoming you today is just a small token of our gratitude to those who have decided to help us.” He knows that technicians from the Center for Development Studies and Promotion (Desco), a non-governmental organization hired by iSur that is specialized in the breeding and raising of alpacas, is already working to improve grazing conditions and water management.
This work with the alpaca farmers is part of iSur’s Eco-Business Program, whose purpose is to encourage traditional productive activities with commercial potential. There are two other programs in the implementation phase: Tourism and Handicrafts, aiming to attract a regular influx of visitors, which will be greatly enhanced by the completion of the roadworks (expected to take place in 2010); and the conservation of natural areas that are currently under threat through activities compatible with the environment and its biodiversity.
Graciano Mandura, the Mayor of Ocongate, was also invited to the event, and, at the request of four religious leaders, took part in the “Pago a la Tierra” (“I Pay the Earth”) ceremony, giving thanks for the life that Mother Earth (La Pachamama) gives to everyone and asking for good rains and better harvests in the months to come.
An ancestral rite that dates back to pre-Columbian religious practices, “Pago a la Tierra” symbolizes humankind’s connection to nature. On the mountaintop, witnessed by people who form a circle with the animals at the center, an offering is also made to Ausangate, the 6,800-m snow-capped peak that dominates the skyline and is considered by the Andean peoples to be an apu, a sacred mountain that protects people.
Also speaking in Quechua, the imperial Inca language – the second tongue of everyone there and the first and only language of most elderly people and women, who do not speak Spanish – the mayor sounds the alert: “Our traditional customs cannot be forgotten and our traditions must be preserved. But we need to be organized to transform what we are receiving into the development of our community.”
That morning, in the Ocongate camp one thousand meters below, at Km 70 of the highway, Pégrio Panicali, the Project Director responsible for the operations of Segment 2 (300 km, from Urcos to Puente Iñambari), summed up the spirit that moves the project: “We are not here to build 710 km of asphalt covering.” Sérgio, who has been with Odebrecht since 1993, explains: “This highway can make the implementation of supply chains possible, and become a development hub in Peru. And the watchword is sustainability, which only happens when the transfer of technology and skills is truly successful.”
Mobilizing and networking
In that sense, the communities’ commitment to the investments being made to add value to their local assets and transform what had once been a means of subsistence into sources of wealth generation is becoming a key to the success of this initiative and its future prospects.
Delcy Machado, who has been with Odebrecht since 1995, is the Executive Director of iSur and a Member of the Board of Directors, made up of representatives of the six members of the alliance: Pro-Naturaleza, Conservación Internacional-Perú, CAF, Fondo de Las Americas, Conirsa and Odebrecht. He also presides over the Asociación Odebrecht Perú, the program’s executive partner. One of his priorities is mobilizing and networking with all the local players by bolstering competencies to ensure collective and organized participation. This will make it possible to achieve sustainable development in which the local communities are the protagonists, enabling them to seize the opportunities that the South InterOceanic Highway can bring.
He is optimistic: “There is a positive energy at work. We need to channel it to keep it going.” One of Delcy’s expectations is that the project that is just getting started can also come to influence the development of local leaders capable of a more active participation in the public governance of the provinces in which they live.
The management of the different projects will be carried out from the Development Centers, which comprise set territorial areas where some projects are already underway and others will take place as planned for the next several years, all along the 710-km route of the highway. The Accocunca community lies within the sphere of activity of the Development Center of the High Andes, which includes the Marcapata, Ocongate and Ccatcca districts, covering approximately 150 km of the highway’s route. In Ccatcca, the main focus of activity is raising cuyes (Peruvian guinea pigs).
The cuy is a herbivorous mammal, originally from the Andean region, which is traditionally prized for its meat in Peru. As prolific as rabbits, with short breeding cycles, and easy to manage, cuyes are raised in almost every local household because they provide a food security factor – like the raising of chickens in rural Brazil. And like poultry in Brazil, cuyes are also a customary dish on feast days and at banquets.
Josefina Barriga Gamarra, a zoological engineer, works for the Institute of Agrarian Promotion and Development, a non-governmental organization hired by iSur to build up the cuy breeding development program. She explains: “We want to transform what is a food assurance factor today into something that is also an economic assurance factor.” There are several steps to follow: the first is to ensure the genetic improvement of the breeding stock to produce animals that are better able to resist the harsh winter and the high-altitude environment that is found in the district, as well as to encourage the use of new management methods. The next is to set up a center that offers quality breeding stock; then, to organize the farmers into cooperatives, and finally to build a freezer structure, which can ensure a constant temperature at the time of slaughter and sell the meat in compliance with health codes to meet the demand in Peru and abroad.
Julio Cruz Spaza, the President of the Cachira community, is one of the cuy farmers who have already benefited from the support provided by the iSur technicians, who work in cooperation with the Ccatcca town council’s teams. He wanted to show off his livestock too, and invited Mayor Pedro Illanes, his neighbors and the artisans – who weave textiles, including useful and decorative objects, made from alpaca and sheep wool in their community – to meet with iSur’s teams. The greeting is cheerful, always in Quechua, and expectations are high: “I want to tell you that we expect to emerge from poverty with the help that you are giving us. And I assure you that we are ready to receive your help. Much more than that, we are ready to work.”
Mayor Pedro Illanes has included the intensification of cuy farming in his plan to encourage people to find alternatives to the form of traditional agriculture that had been predominant in the region but was abandoned because of the deterioration of the quality of the soil, primarily caused by deforestation. “We will reforest the mountainsides,” he says. “We will intensify the planting of trees but we will also invest in activities that do not require large amounts of space, like raising cuyes and making handicrafts. We need to break this cycle that has left us poorer with each passing generation.”
Pedro Illanes remembers that the raising of cuyes was almost wiped out by the Spanish colonizers because, according to legend, they believed the extraordinary energy that Inca warriors displayed in battle came from the meat of those small animals. But, raised in secret, the breed survived. “Interestingly enough,” he adds, “today it is a foreign company that is helping us bring it back as a delicacy on our festival tables, as the source of a better life for all of us.”
The iSur project also includes the organization of artisans, aiming at achieving better conditions for marketing their products that will set the region apart; the construction of the necessary infrastructure to handle the natural growth of tourism; the development of specific-interest tourism projects; the production and sale of ornamental plants, fruits and fish, and the installation of an ethno-botanical center.
Martin Alcalde, representing Pro-Naturaleza, an important and active Peruvian NGO created in the 80s, says he is pleased with what has been done so far. In the governance structure that has been established for this program, he sees a model that can be replicated in similar situations, because it offers prospects of successfully boosting the development arising from the highway’s construction. This will help achieve the aim of all involved – minimizing the indirect impacts that projects of this magnitude can cause.
Other IIRSA South Projects
“This governance model clearly identifies the strengths of the alliance members and allows us to put them to work for a cause that is beneficial for all concerned,” he says. “It is very important for organizations like Pro-Naturaleza and Conservación Internacional-Perú to work closely with companies that enable us to discuss our objectives. With Odebrecht this works well, because it is a company that goes beyond the construction project – it is a company that not only cares for asphalt and highways, but for people.”
Gabriela Rocha: passionate about social development projectsGabriela, a Brazilian in the Andes
The manager of the Upper Andes Development Center is a Young Odebrecht Partner – Gabriela Rocha, 23, who joined the South InterOceanic Initiative (iSur) seven months ago and now lives at the project’s campsite in Ocongate.
Born in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte, she was just two months old when she went to live in Peru for the first time. Two years later, she was back in Brazil, but then, when she was 5, Gabriela left the country for good – this time, to live in Ecuador. When she was 11, she moved from there to the United States, where she obtained degrees in Psychology and Sociology.
While in college, she got involved in social outreach projects and worked on support programs for African refugees, particularly people from Somalia, and teenage immigrants. She dreamed of going to Nepal to work with young girls victimized by sexual abuse.
When she found out about iSur, she was fascinated. And now, she is committed. “I’m very proud of the view Odebrecht takes of social investment,” she says. And she sees the same conviction in all Group members wherever she looks.
Inspired by Jorge Barata, the Odebrecht CEO for Peru, Gabriela plans to take an MBA in Social Development to improve her qualifications even further. Quoting Jorge, Gabriela says: “Odebrecht must be a provider of social services, viewing infrastructure facilities as a means to that end.”
When Sérgio Panicali evaluates the company’s relationship with ancient Andean communities with deep-rooted and different traditions and cultures, he sees “the construction of trust” as the biggest challenge.
Gabriela seems to have overcome that challenge. Recently, when a baby was born in a community iSur serves, she was asked to be its godmother.