Phil Cannon

Portfolio Description

Experiences of a FAO Agent in Cusco

By the time I arrived in Cusco, the FAO/Holanda/INFOR Team had figured out just about everything that needed figuring to the point that a that a very efficient social forestry program could be run in just about any community of the Peruvian Sierra.  A lot of time had been spent by Chris Van Damme to figure out how to meet with communities and help them tease out the needs that they had for trees and tree products. And the forestry community in Cusco was extremely receptive to the idea of getting some FAO support for their extension program. Simon Morales was known across the country as being a champion of trees.

The crux of the FAO/Holanda/INFOR program was simple in nature.  It began by selecting extensionists that showed some interest in managing natural resources. These individuals also needed good communication skills. All 12 of the FAO extensionists in the Department of Cusco spoke Quechua and Spanish and had respect from the communities they were serving. For training the FAO/Holanda/ INFOR project brought groups of extensionists together for a week and showed them how to work with communities in the arenas of forestry and agroforestry. Then each extensionist was assigned three rural Andean communities that they would serve. The Department of Cusco is vast and the 36 communities being served by FAO/Holanda/ Cusco extensionists were widely scattered.

  It was considered that the extensionists would probably do their jobs better if they would spend the work week living in one of the three communities that they were serving. To enable them to live in one of these communities, these extensionists were given some additional funds for lodging and per diem.  It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to be attractive.  The hitch was that in order to qualify for these funds, the extensionists needed to live in the community. They would get their lodging and per diem payments brought to them in the communities by Mario Morales, who was the Chief Financial Officer for the FAO/Holanda/INFOR in the Department of Cusco. Mario would also carry some additional cash for other miscellaneous purchases that were needed to keep the project fluid.

The Peruvian SOL was not worth much in those days so Mario would carry the money in a small suitcase packed with bills.  He also carried a small pistol, just in case it was necessary and his brother in law was the Chief of police for the department of Cusco which also added to the security of carrying out this mission.

The modus operandi for the project in each community was simple, there would be periodic meetings where the whole community would convene and discuss possible forestry projects.  During one of the first of these meetings each community would select a forestry promotor or representative.  The role of this promotor would be to convene meetings and at least have a part of the agenda for that meeting figured out.

During meetings some of the questions that might get addressed are what species of trees do we want to plant in our community,  how many of them do we want to plant, on which ground will we be planting these trees and do we have the supplies needed to produce the seedlings in a village nursery and then can we get them planted and cared for once they are planted. 

From this simple picture, it should be obvious that a nursery would be necessary.  For most communities there would be three nurseries   from which they could get seedlings.  The most important would be the community nursery that was built by and operated by the community nursery committee.  This group would collect the list of species of trees that the community indicated would be desirable and then they would build the nursery, fill the polyethylene pots with loose dark soil and sow the seed.  They would tend the seedlings until they were suitable size and then provide these seedlings to the community which would, in turn, make sure that the right seedlings got planted on the right sections of the community land in an acceptable manner.  Most communities also had a school and a school nursery program that also produced a modest number of seedlings (in the Dept of Cusco there was a forestry program in 500 schools).  There was also a huge Departmental Nursery that could produce 3,000,000 seedlings per year.

In the above paragraph, there were three items that might have caught the eye of some readers.  First, where did the seed come from, second where did the Polyethylene bags come from and third, is all tree planting done on community land?

With respect to seed, essentially all people living in rural sections of the Department of Cusco are good at harvesting seed.  We found that a great way to stimulate seed collection of some of the species that were most desirable was to offer a soccer ball to school kids that could collect one kilo of seed off of any “healthy and well-formed” tree of that species.  As I recall we gave away 28 good quality soccer balls one year.  With respect to the polyethylene bags, we knew this was not something that could be found in the local village and that it was something that FAO/Holanda/INFOR could cheaply provide.

As for the question of community land.  Yes, all land in all communities in the Peruvian Sierra were owned by the community and no land was owned by individuals.  As such the land that someone was farming one year would be farmed by a different farmer the next year and the trees planted on a parcel of land one year would probably get harvested by a different farmer some years into the future.  So much the better that the initial decisions of what to plant and where had been made by the whole community.

Although this was the situation that I found when working for the FAO/Holanda/INFOR project it had not always been that way, even a couple of decades earlier the situation in terms of land ownership was quite different.  At that time and for about two centuries before, there had been some very rich families that had possession of some very big estates on the most fertile (and generally the flattest) ground in the Sierras and one consequence of this was that many of these wealthy haciendas planted large numbers of eucalyptus trees.  Many of these trees had grown to large dimensions (one meter in diameter and 40 meters tall).  After the Agrarian reform of the 1960’s the question arose as to what to do with these big trees.  At the Hacienda Juan Velasco Alvarado it was decided that an attempt should be made to use this wood. The FAO/Holanda/INFOR project secured support of this project from Sweden.  The Swedes sent the parts for a complete sawmill and several other wood working machines to Juan Velasco Alvarado and over the course of a year we set up a complete wood working complex.  Over the next 7 years, this complex would process all the large trees growing in this community and then be moved to one more community after another in the Sierra that also had large numbers of huge eucalyptus trees.  This project made perfect sense as the communities that had these very big eucalyptus trees were making excellent use of this resource.

The one FAO project that really gave me pause was the Cusco electrification project.  A hydroelectric dam had been built on the Amazon and a main power line was being run through the Department of Cusco to eventually run all the way to Puno.  There was an offer made by the power company that any community along the route could tap into this electrical resource if they could provide the transmission poles from the main line to their village.  At that time, imported transmission poles (CCA treated pine trees from the US) cost $55.00 apiece. But the FAO project determined that the Boucherie process could be used to manufacture transmission poles out of eucalyptus trees at a cost of $19.00 apiece.  (Note the Boucherie process worked by enabling CCB salts to displace the sap in eucalyptus trees soon after they were cut). The first village we helped electrify was Juan Velasco Alvarado because it would need electricity to help run some of the machinery in the sawmill, and that made good sense.  However, as we were getting that town electrified, many neighboring communities also began to show keen interest.  I was a little reluctant because I thought this might really upset the traditions in the area.  Until that time, it always went dark in these villages when the sun went down and there was no television or many other outside influences either.  I reasoned that it was not my business to change the ways of the local people and so extracted myself from the decision-making process.  Never-the-less, I was told that 35 communities had signed up for the opportunity of making transmission posts and bringing electricity to their communities.

There were several other lessons learned.  One was that the communities in Cusco were already well organized so the making of decisions on such matters as what trees to grow on there lands came to them naturally and largely without incident.  Another lesson was that growing plants was already in the DNA of most tribal members.  All you needed to do was say that the seed of a eucalyptus is very much like the seed of an onion and they, almost intuitively, knew how to go through the sequence of steps of first having the germination bed and next pricking out the germinated seedlings to put in earth filled polyethelene pots at the right spacing.

There were, however, some serendipitous new findings along the way.  One occurred because for a long time we had been trying to get one community to consider planting certain shrubs on their terraces to cut back on soil erosion, but they just weren’t getting it.  On the other hand, a community 15 km away was already using this practice beautifully.  We had suggested a visit, but this wasn’t acceptable, the community we were working with just knew they were so much better than that other community.  Finally, we hit on the notion that a soccer game and a feast could do the trick. No self-respecting Peruvian can turn down the prospect of a soccer game and a feast.  We (FAO/Holanda/INFOR) provided a big truck to get the members of one community over to the other community and a whistle for the soccer game and a little bit of money for the feast.  The host community provided the soccer pitch and prepared the feast.  But before the soccer game and the feast, the arrangement was that the forestry committees of both communities would take a guided tour of the forest practices underway on the lands of the host community.  I knew we had succeeded when two members of the visiting community started muttering that for sure they could do the erosion control plantings and even better.

Experiences of a FAO Agent in Cusco

By: Phil Cannon

By the time I arrived in Cusco, the FAO/Holanda/INFOR Team had figured out just about everything that needed figuring to the point that a that a very efficient social forestry program could be run in just about any community of the Peruvian Sierra.  A lot of time had been spent by Chris Van Damme to figure out how to meet with communities and help them tease out the needs that they had for trees and tree products. And the forestry community in Cusco was extremely receptive to the idea of getting some FAO support for their extension program. Simon Morales was known across the country as being a champion of trees.

The crux of the FAO/Holanda/INFOR program was simple in nature.  It began by selecting extensionists that showed some interest in managing natural resources. These individuals also needed good communication skills. All 12 of the FAO extensionists in the Department of Cusco spoke Quechua and Spanish and had respect from the communities they were serving. For training the FAO/Holanda/ INFOR project brought groups of extensionists together for a week and showed them how to work with communities in the arenas of forestry and agroforestry. Then each extensionist was assigned three rural Andean communities that they would serve. The Department of Cusco is vast and the 36 communities being served by FAO/Holanda/ Cusco extensionists were widely scattered.

  It was considered that the extensionists would probably do their jobs better if they would spend the work week living in one of the three communities that they were serving. To enable them to live in one of these communities, these extensionists were given some additional funds for lodging and per diem.  It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to be attractive.  The hitch was that in order to qualify for these funds, the extensionists needed to live in the community. They would get their lodging and per diem payments brought to them in the communities by Mario Morales, who was the Chief Financial Officer for the FAO/Holanda/INFOR in the Department of Cusco. Mario would also carry some additional cash for other miscellaneous purchases that were needed to keep the project fluid.

The Peruvian SOL was not worth much in those days so Mario would carry the money in a small suitcase packed with bills.  He also carried a small pistol, just in case it was necessary and his brother in law was the Chief of police for the department of Cusco which also added to the security of carrying out this mission.

The modus operandi for the project in each community was simple, there would be periodic meetings where the whole community would convene and discuss possible forestry projects.  During one of the first of these meetings each community would select a forestry promotor or representative.  The role of this promotor would be to convene meetings and at least have a part of the agenda for that meeting figured out.

During meetings some of the questions that might get addressed are what species of trees do we want to plant in our community,  how many of them do we want to plant, on which ground will we be planting these trees and do we have the supplies needed to produce the seedlings in a village nursery and then can we get them planted and cared for once they are planted. 

From this simple picture, it should be obvious that a nursery would be necessary.  For most communities there would be three nurseries   from which they could get seedlings.  The most important would be the community nursery that was built by and operated by the community nursery committee.  This group would collect the list of species of trees that the community indicated would be desirable and then they would build the nursery, fill the polyethylene pots with loose dark soil and sow the seed.  They would tend the seedlings until they were suitable size and then provide these seedlings to the community which would, in turn, make sure that the right seedlings got planted on the right sections of the community land in an acceptable manner.  Most communities also had a school and a school nursery program that also produced a modest number of seedlings (in the Dept of Cusco there was a forestry program in 500 schools).  There was also a huge Departmental Nursery that could produce 3,000,000 seedlings per year.

In the above paragraph, there were three items that might have caught the eye of some readers.  First, where did the seed come from, second where did the Polyethylene bags come from and third, is all tree planting done on community land?

With respect to seed, essentially all people living in rural sections of the Department of Cusco are good at harvesting seed.  We found that a great way to stimulate seed collection of some of the species that were most desirable was to offer a soccer ball to school kids that could collect one kilo of seed off of any “healthy and well-formed” tree of that species.  As I recall we gave away 28 good quality soccer balls one year.  With respect to the polyethylene bags, we knew this was not something that could be found in the local village and that it was something that FAO/Holanda/INFOR could cheaply provide.

As for the question of community land.  Yes, all land in all communities in the Peruvian Sierra were owned by the community and no land was owned by individuals.  As such the land that someone was farming one year would be farmed by a different farmer the next year and the trees planted on a parcel of land one year would probably get harvested by a different farmer some years into the future.  So much the better that the initial decisions of what to plant and where had been made by the whole community.

Although this was the situation that I found when working for the FAO/Holanda/INFOR project it had not always been that way, even a couple of decades earlier the situation in terms of land ownership was quite different.  At that time and for about two centuries before, there had been some very rich families that had possession of some very big estates on the most fertile (and generally the flattest) ground in the Sierras and one consequence of this was that many of these wealthy haciendas planted large numbers of eucalyptus trees.  Many of these trees had grown to large dimensions (one meter in diameter and 40 meters tall).  After the Agrarian reform of the 1960’s the question arose as to what to do with these big trees.  At the Hacienda Juan Velasco Alvarado it was decided that an attempt should be made to use this wood. The FAO/Holanda/INFOR project secured support of this project from Sweden.  The Swedes sent the parts for a complete sawmill and several other wood working machines to Juan Velasco Alvarado and over the course of a year we set up a complete wood working complex.  Over the next 7 years, this complex would process all the large trees growing in this community and then be moved to one more community after another in the Sierra that also had large numbers of huge eucalyptus trees.  This project made perfect sense as the communities that had these very big eucalyptus trees were making excellent use of this resource.

The one FAO project that really gave me pause was the Cusco electrification project.  A hydroelectric dam had been built on the Amazon and a main power line was being run through the Department of Cusco to eventually run all the way to Puno.  There was an offer made by the power company that any community along the route could tap into this electrical resource if they could provide the transmission poles from the main line to their village.  At that time, imported transmission poles (CCA treated pine trees from the US) cost $55.00 apiece. But the FAO project determined that the Boucherie process could be used to manufacture transmission poles out of eucalyptus trees at a cost of $19.00 apiece.  (Note the Boucherie process worked by enabling CCB salts to displace the sap in eucalyptus trees soon after they were cut). The first village we helped electrify was Juan Velasco Alvarado because it would need electricity to help run some of the machinery in the sawmill, and that made good sense.  However, as we were getting that town electrified, many neighboring communities also began to show keen interest.  I was a little reluctant because I thought this might really upset the traditions in the area.  Until that time, it always went dark in these villages when the sun went down and there was no television or many other outside influences either.  I reasoned that it was not my business to change the ways of the local people and so extracted myself from the decision-making process.  Never-the-less, I was told that 35 communities had signed up for the opportunity of making transmission posts and bringing electricity to their communities.

There were several other lessons learned.  One was that the communities in Cusco were already well organized so the making of decisions on such matters as what trees to grow on there lands came to them naturally and largely without incident.  Another lesson was that growing plants was already in the DNA of most tribal members.  All you needed to do was say that the seed of a eucalyptus is very much like the seed of an onion and they, almost intuitively, knew how to go through the sequence of steps of first having the germination bed and next pricking out the germinated seedlings to put in earth filled polyethelene pots at the right spacing.

There were, however, some serendipitous new findings along the way.  One occurred because for a long time we had been trying to get one community to consider planting certain shrubs on their terraces to cut back on soil erosion, but they just weren’t getting it.  On the other hand, a community 15 km away was already using this practice beautifully.  We had suggested a visit, but this wasn’t acceptable, the community we were working with just knew they were so much better than that other community.  Finally, we hit on the notion that a soccer game and a feast could do the trick. No self-respecting Peruvian can turn down the prospect of a soccer game and a feast.  We (FAO/Holanda/INFOR) provided a big truck to get the members of one community over to the other community and a whistle for the soccer game and a little bit of money for the feast.  The host community provided the soccer pitch and prepared the feast.  But before the soccer game and the feast, the arrangement was that the forestry committees of both communities would take a guided tour of the forest practices underway on the lands of the host community.  I knew we had succeeded when two members of the visiting community started muttering that for sure they could do the erosion control plantings and even better.

Lots more happened with this huge, dynamic FAO/Holanda/INFOR social forestry program, but hopefully from this brief expose the reader can catch at least a glimpse of how the project operated in one of the five Departments of the Peruvian Sierra where it operated.

Lots more happened with this huge, dynamic FAO/Holanda/INFOR social forestry program, but hopefully from this brief expose the reader can catch at least a glimpse of how the project operated in one of the five Departments of the Peruvian Sierra where it operated.