Olmos: Inside northern Peru’s gigantic precedent for large-scale irrigation

Olmos: Inside northern Peru’s gigantic precedent for large-scale irrigation

You would think it might rain from the gray morning skies in northern Peru but in all likelihood, it won’t. The clouds will give way to a scorching sun that glares down on threadbare pebbly plains of shrubs, the dirt that wafts in the air, the hoods of motorbike-taxis and a scattering of houses in construction. Locals are not used to having much water in Olmos, but their region now has a complex system of dams, canals and pipes channeling Amazonian water to smallholder farms and swathes of unused land. If successful, this network could expand and pave the way for similar developments across the country.

“I think it’s very necessary,” says Maria, an elderly woman on the plane, when asked about the changes Brazilian company Odebrecht has brought through the Olmos Irrigation Project.

Her children had left the rural area to find better opportunities in Lima and Buenos Aires, but she believes the project will now breathe new life into the regional economy and its young population.

“The amount of water had been in decline for a long time.”

With US$350 million spent on the project works with a tunnel through the Andes and a further US$280 million invested in the agricultural element, the name Odebrecht resonates with most people in the nearby city of Chiclayo, where airport officials are on a first-name basis with company representatives.

This comes as no surprise considering the initiative’s implications, activating 38,500 hectares of new agricultural land that is expected to trigger 40,000 direct jobs, complemented by 5,500 hectares for local Olmos smallholder growers.

“The Olmos riverbed was dry and the population had not been accustomed to having water there, but today thanks to this project that transfers water from the Huancabamba River by crossing the mountains through the Transandino tunnel, this natural riverbed is flowing,” says Odebrecht Infrastructure commercial sales manager Juan Carlos Urteaga, adding the project draws on around 45% of the Huancamba’s water resource.

“We are in charge of the irrigation system but for those smallholder growers the regional government is seeing how to make the minor investments to provide water to each grower.”

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