Project : High Altitude Greenhouse and Irrigation: Ccapacmachay, Peru
The village of Ccapacmachay is a predominantly autonomous community of approximately 140 inhabitants, located 80 km from Urubamba in the Peruvian Andes. Ccapacmachay was founded approximately 15 years ago at 14,000 feet due to the limited availability of land and infrastructure at lower altitudes. Since Ccapacmachay’s initial settlement, the community’s population has increased from ~40 to ~140 inhabitants. This is not reflective of rapid rates of reproduction in Ccapacmachay, but instead of the diminishing carrying capacities of communities farther down the mountain.
The combination of high altitude and extreme weather has prevented the development of varied agriculture in the community. At present, the only crop capable of surviving exposed to these conditions is the potato. For breakfast, community members usually drink coffee accompanied with boiled potatoes. During lunch, they eat dehydrated potatoes, Chuño. Dinner is not often, but if a late snack is eaten, it consists of a potato variation.
The lack of dietary diversity and other forms of nutrients directly affects Ccapacmachay’s health, which can be seen in the stunted development and physical growth of community members. They are shorter than their blood relatives situated further down the mountain. In addition, malnutrition also takes a severe toll on their immune systems and ability to overcome illness. When members fall ill, their recovery, if reached, takes abnormal periods of time. Unfortunately, this weakened immune-response takes the greatest toll on the children of Ccapacmachay.
As a result, our primary goal is to design and implement a viable high-altitude greenhouse that will enable the people of Ccapacmachay to grow a diverse selection of fruits and vegetable in order to maintain a healthy diet.
Upon our arrival in Ccapacmachay, we were met with a generous and hard working group of individuals who were as excited for our arrival as we were. Right away, we noticed that there were already many greenhouses in the community, but few were actually functioning. The worst off was the primary school's greenhouse, which was situated in the bottom of a flood plane, covered by numerous trees, and misaligned with the movement of the sun. Through data retrieval and experimentation, we hoped to develop a solid base design for greenhouses in the community.
After discussions with the Junta Directiva, the governing body of Ccapacmachay, we jointly decided to focus our efforts on improving the school's greenhouse. This way, the school, which is charged with providing daily lunches to the community's children, would be able to enrich their meals with fruits and vegetables. In turn, members of the community would be able to apply the principles of our modifications to their own greenhouses in the future. With sufficient time to modify the school's existing greenhouse, we collectively designed and implemented improvements which included:
- Dramatically changing the pitch of the roof.
- Raising the floor of the greenhouse above a floodplain with a gradient floor bed.
- Designing a system to divert rain and flood water away from the greenhouse foundation.
- Insulating and minimizing exposure to outside air.
- Optimizing space utilization by installing hanging plant beds.
In addition, we built two experimental hotbox style greenhouses. In contrast to traditional greenhouses, hotboxes are built into the ground, offering superior heat retention and cold weather survivability. Furthermore, hotboxes consume significantly less materials than typical greenhouses and can be moved if necessary. Nonetheless, hotboxes are easily flooded in heavy rains, and thus may not function all year round in areas with heavy rainfall during the rainy season.
As a follow-up to the 2009 assessment trip and 2010 implementation trip, four members of EWB-Carleton College will return to Ccapacmachay towards the end of August in 2012 along with our professional mentor. This is a monitoring trip aimed at officially closing out the project by ensuring that the renovated greenhouses have achieved the desired goal of increased dietary diversity in the community. Through water testing and family health surveys, we will also identify any remaining needs in Ccapacmachay that could lead to a future project with us or another EWB chapter. Check back in mid-September 2012 for updates!