Overcoming the First Challenges of the Greenhouses

By Madeline Greenwood (McGill University)

Credits: Miguel Ángel Arreátegui Rodríguez

I arrived in Cuncani for the first time just four weeks ago, and was immediately in awe of the scenery, and the way of life. Life isn’t easy in the high Andes, and I admire the way in which people go about their days, hiking for hours just to get home from school, or bring their Alpacas to graze. At over 4,000m above sea level, the climate is cold, the soil is thin and the only crop that will survive outside is potato. I was impressed to learn that there are hundreds of types of potatoes being grown in each chakra, or plot of land, and the people of Cuncani have definitely mastered the art of growing, storing and cooking them. But, in reality, no matter the quantity or type, the nutritional value of this starchy vegetable is not enough to sustain a family. This is where the agriculture portion of Nexos Comunitarios’ Sustainable Homes project comes in.

My first glimpse of a Cuncani greenhouse was at Señor Martin’s house. We walked uphill from the community centre and found ourselves giving an out of breath introduction to the first patron of the sustainable homes project. He showed us around his property, and finally to the greenhouse and chicken coop which had been built earlier that month. The greenhouses in the project are simple adobe/rock structures, like any house in the region but with industrial white plastic for the roof and windows, which traps the heat from the sun, and moisture from the plants inside. The temperature is dramatically different between the inside and outside of the building, and I was fascinated at how easy it seemed to create a climate suitable for a wide variety of vegetables including lettuce, cauliflower, beets, chard and cabbage.

During my first visit, the plants were small and mostly unrecognizable green sprouts but, just two weeks later the mini versions of each plant were full-fledged. It’s exciting in itself to witness a feat of nature like growing plants where they shouldn’t naturally survive, but the greenhouses do not come without challenges. Without proper care, and foresight of potential problems, the plants inside don’t stand a chance, but at the same time we’re hoping that people will be able to complete extra work on top of all their other tasks.

Right now, it’s potato-harvesting season in Cuncani, and everyone has something to do. After school the children rush home to help their parents in the fields, and soon they will be busy preparing Chuño and Moraya. These traditional methods of preserving potatoes continue to be the main resource for surviving the winter in this community, and can feed families for months. With this in mind, it is easy to understand how the supplemental vegetables in the greenhouses could fall by the wayside and in this environment, even a small mistake like leaving the door open or watering the garden improperly could be detrimental. This winter will be an interesting learning experience for families to figure out what works for them in terms of delegating tasks between family members, and incorporating this new responsibility into their lives.

Although this project is still in its beginning phases, it’s looking very promising. Each week we return to Cuncani, the families seem increasingly comfortable using and maintaining their gardens and as a result, the veggies are healthy and growing consistently. For the families in Cuncani, the greenhouses mean subsistence agriculture that will actually serve its purpose of nourishment. It’s the newfound access to a wider variety of foods in their own backyards, and for free that will make a real difference to their nutrition everyday, but survival will always come first. The challenges they face within the project may not be over, but as a community and an organization, we can all learn from each experience, failure or success we encounter in the first months of the Sustainable Homes Project.

The Landscape of Global Nutrition Governance 

Carly Hayes, University of Waterloo (Nexos Comunitarios intern)

Global governance is a term that is not well-defined by academics or practitioners – is there any way that we can really govern a world that consists of a vast multitude of different contexts and histories, especially in something as personal and cultural as the foods we eat? However, the idea that global governance only exists at the level of countries negotiating with each other at forums such as the United Nations does not capture the fluid and multi-directional nature of global governance. In the world of nutrition, the governance landscape is immense and has a long history, and it is important to understand how what happens at the global level of decision-making in efforts against malnutrition influences actions taken at the local level, where it can have its greatest impact. It would be impossible to cover all of the landmark moments in nutrition governance in a single blog post, but we can examine trends in the governance of nutrition, and how they aligns with the efforts taken in Peru.

Modern global food and nutrition governance began in 1944 with the establishment of the FAO, as a response to inequalities in the global food regime and the oversupply of food in parts of the world, compared to famines and malnourishment running rampant in others (McKeon, 2015). This watershed moment set the stage for the neoliberal, technology, and supply-side interventions that would characterize food governance for the next 60 years. However, it has been acknowledged now by governments that simply increasing the amount of food we produce will not solve problems of malnutrition, as we already produce more than enough food to provide every person on earth with 2800 calories per day (Food Tank, 2014).  Barriers to accessing food, such as isolation, inequality, varying climates, and poverty, need to be addressed as well in order to make any meaningful impact. Peru’s governance of malnutrition has mirrored these fluctuations in the paradigm of global governance, with efforts in the early 1970s being concentrated on the inflow and management of official development assistance coming from Western countries through the National Nutritional Support Office.

In recent years, however, particularly in light of the global food price crisis in 2007-2008, nutrition governance has shifted. This is reflected in the sustainable development goals, discussed in a previous blog post, which take a more “food systems” approach, rather than a “food aid” approach, including targets such as “ensuring sustainable food production,” “maintaining biodiversity,” and “increasing investments in rural infrastructure”(Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, 2015). One of the most widely recognized mechanisms in the global governance of nutrition presently is the World Health Assembly’s 2025 Global Targets for Maternal, Infant, and Child Nutrition, which has set inclusive targets and indicators that have been widely endorsed and have laid the foundation for the development of other multilateral nutrition agreements (World Health Assembly, 2015). The aim was to support the creation of an enabling environment for comprehensive food and nutrition policies that engage policymakers at the national level across sectors to recognize the multi-causality of malnutrition. This has shown a dramatic shift from historic government programming that focused on the simplistic need for more food.


Forty years from the establishment of the National Nutritional Support Office, Peru has participated in consultations about the Sustainable Development Goals and has designed decentralized programming that at least seeks to target the most vulnerable populations to overcome nutrition barriers related to equity (Benavides et al., 2016). It is yet to be seen whether Peru will shift their current “food aid” programming to align more closely with values of sustainability in terms of community empowerment and environmental protection in production under the new government. However, with shifts in governance changing towards global trends in non-communicable diseases and improving commodity markets, Peru must resist the urge to follow governance trends entirely and continue to “leave behind” the vulnerable populations that have not yet been beneficiaries of the country’s fast-paced economic and social development. While participation in agenda-setting at the global level is important, Peru must focus on translating the values and ambition of global targets to eradicate malnutrition into tangible actions to address the contextual needs of local communities in achieving sustainable food security.

Acosta, Andres Mejia (2011). “Analyzing Success in the Fight against Malnutrition in Peru.” IDS Working Papers. Volume 2011 , Number 367. Accessed Online: http://www.ids.ac.uk/files/dmfile/Wp367.pdf
Benavides, Martin et al. (2016). “Measuring the Sustainable Development Agenda in Peru.” Post-2015  Data Test: Country Level Experiences. Lima: GRADE. Accessed Online:  http://www.post2015datatest.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Final-Peru-Data-Test_April.pdf
Food Tank (2014). “What We Need to Know About Hunger.” Food Tank. Accessed Online:  http://foodtank.com/news/2014/07/what-we-need-to-know-about-hunge
International Food Policy Research Institute (2016). From Promise to Impact: Ending Malnutrition by 2030. Washington: International Food Policy Research Institute.
McKeon, Nora (2015). Food Security Governance: Empowering communities, regulating corporations. New York: Routledge.
Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform (2015). “Sustainable Development Goal 2: End Hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” United Nation Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Accessed Online: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg2
World Health Organization (2014). “Indicators for the Global Monitoring Framework on Maternal, Infant    and Young Child Nutrition.” Geneva: World Health Organization. Accessed Online:     http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/indicators_monitoringframework_miycn_background.pdf


Untangling the web of malnutrition

Carly Hayes (University of Waterloo)

Malnutrition is a problem that spans multiple sectors: social, biological, environmental, and economic, just to name a few. What we have learned from interviews with community members, photos taken by school-aged children, speaking with experts, spending time with our family partners and gathering data from ministries, is that all of the causes are inherently connected and cannot be disentangled from the complex web of malnutrition.

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This pictures show the preparation of K’ispiño.  A typical dish made with alpaca blood, moraya flour, cilantro and salt. The meal was served with potatoes and uchucuta.

Malnutrition is the state of lacking adequate access to necessary macro and micronutrients in the daily diet that are required for the biological and cellular processes our bodies use to function. But malnutrition also encompasses a number of other factors, including sanitation, education, social structures, and culture. My colleague Kennedy recently wrote an article about it, and you can access it here.

The Peruvian government has sought to remedy malnutrition in the same way that it is structured – by providing programs that are multi-sectoral and address multiple problems. Through QaliWarma, the government has endeavoured to improve school attendance rates by providing school meals. Through CunaMas, mothers receive education on early childhood stimulation to improve cognitive development. In Chispitas, targeted families receive supplementation to combat anaemia in children aged from 6 to 36 months old. And finally, in Juntos, a cash transfer program, the Peruvian government has incentivized health care access and school attendance by providing conditional cash transfers of 100 soles per month.

While the Peruvian government has been praised for commitment and multi-sectoral approach to reducing malnutrition by the World Bank, this data masks regional inequalities. Last week we had an interview with the doctor of Lares Health Center (Lares was the poorest district in Peru until 2013), a centre who is in charge of 11 different communities. Cuncani is part of these communities, which are all between 40 minutes and five hours away from Lares. What came to light through this conversation is that despite this dedication to improving overall welfare, malnutrition has gotten worse in a number of ways. The statistics from this year, that were released few days ago, indicate that 37% of the children are malnourished, 22% more than a year ago.

Why is this happening? While we are still trying to answer this question, one possible answer is that no program exists to combat malnutrition, in its multiple forms, as an end goal in itself. These programs are often coupled with goals about achieving universal education, improving healthcare access, and increasing household incomes. Without a program to address malnutrition directly, the complexity of this problem gets lost among a number of other worthwhile goals. And without a direct focus on eliminating malnutrition in the most vulnerable communities, the malnutrition web will only become more tangled.

After finishing with this research, we will continue to improve our efforts and keep working on local solutions for local problems. With our work with the Lares Health Centre, and into the future, we are hoping to reinforce monitoring and evaluation efforts in order to prove that malnutrition and poverty can only be finished when reality, culture, and complexity are taken into account. We hope that the new government of Peru knows this and will take action with this in mind.

+3.5 m….2017


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[Versión en Español / English Version]

¡Sólo tenemos 3.5 meses más, antes de empezar el 2017! Como es usual, aún tenemos pendientes varias metas que queremos cumplir, actividades que realizar y MUCHO, MUCHO por aprender. Como les hemos contado antes, hemos dedicado el 2016 a aprender sobre desnutrición en los Andes, específicamente en Cuncani. 

Nos encontramos en la última etapa de nuestra investigación y antes que la terminemos, estaremos publicando artículos sobre  lo que estamos aprendiendo, los retos que encontramos y todo lo que estamos planeando para los siguientes años.

Esperamos que puedan disfrutar de nuestras publicaciones y acompañarnos en este proceso. Nos ENCANTA seguir aprendiendo para así, realizar un mejor trabajo y hacerlo de una manera más eficiente con nuestros socios en la comunidad.


We just have 3.5 more months before we start 2017! As usual, there are still so many goals to accomplish, activities to do and LOTS AND LOTS of things to learn! As we have told you before, we have dedicated 2016 to learn about malnutrition in the Andes, specifically in Cuncani.

We are in the last phase of our research and before we finish it, we will be posting different articles about all we are learning, the challenges we encounter and all we are planning for the future.

We hope you enjoy our posts and join us in this process! We LOVE to keep learning in order for us to do better work and work with our community partners in a more efficient way.


Malnutrition Facts

Kennedy Clark, Purdue University

(NC Intern)

To many people, malnutrition presents itself as an image of emaciated children with protruding bellies. However, malnutrition has many realities besides this one. It also includes the growing population of children suffering from obesity in western regions, and children in the Andes, who seem otherwise healthy, but are a bit short in nature. Malnutrition, to put it simply, is a deficiency of nutrients. This can be a deficiency of macronutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, or fats; or a deficiency of micronutrients which are vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, iron, zinc, and iodine. In either situation, this deficiency can have devastating and sometimes lasting consequences for those affected.

Malnutrition mainly stems from issues falling under one of the two categories or primary and secondary malnutrition. Insufficient intake, for example, is considered primary malnutrition, in which adequate nutrients are not actually provided in the diet. On the other hand, diseases, such as diarrheal conditions, are an example of secondary malnutrition in which, though adequate nutrients may be provided in the diet, the body cannot correctly absorb them.

Malnutrition is extremely threatening to the body’s ability to maintain life. This is because nutrients provide the necessary fuel to drive metabolism, the collection of processes that keep us alive. Metabolism is divided in to two types of processes: catabolism and anabolism. In catabolism, the body breaks down matter in order to obtain energy. In anabolism, energy is consumed in order to synthesize material needed by the cells such as proteins and nucleic acids. Both of these aspects of metabolism involve complex systems of interaction between proteins already present in the body, and external nutrients introduced into the body through the diet. Thus, without adequate nutrients, the body cannot carry out these necessary processes.

Upon consumption, macronutrients are broken down from their more complex states of carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins, to create the small molecules of simple sugar, fatty acids, and amino acids, which serve as fuel or building blocks for various structures in the body. For example, the simple sugar, glucose is the brains sole source of energy. The phospholipid formed from fatty acids, makes up the outermost layer of most human cells, protecting it from being too permeable to outside pathogens. Furthermore, the amino acids come together to make proteins such as cortisol receptors that allow our bodies to react when faced with danger.

Micronutrients play a different, yet equally vital role in the process. They are often key players necessary for carrying out cellular processes. For example, iron serves as an important component in maintaining the structure of heme groups which are part of proteins found in the red blood cells that help with oxygen transport throughout the body. Iodine, another micronutrient, is similarly important in metabolic processes. It plays a role in the processes in the thyroid. Without the presence of iodine, the thyroid cannot produce its hormones, a number of which are responsible for growth and development throughout the body.

Be it insufficient intake of macronutrients, or of micronutrients, malnutrition can prove to be incredibly, and sometimes irreversibly harmful for those suffering from it. Adequate nutrition is essential for our existence, as without it, we do not have the ability to carry out the number of metabolic processes that take place in our bodies as efficiently as possible; and therefore, cannot function to our fullest potential. This is especially important when it comes to discussing developing regions, such as Andean communities like Cuncani. For them, the gravity of the effects of malnutrition is more complicated than it seems. With poor health outcomes in physical and mental development, the community can be set back in their ability to sustain themselves in their development process.


A meeting to remember

Daniel Baptiste (Nexos Comunitarios)

As a student of International Development I have always taken what I now view to be a somewhat naïve view of grassroots development initiatives. I was under the impression that NGOs worked with their host communities in relative harmony. I thought that while finance could be a perennial difficulty for NGOs, the work itself would be straightforward and universally rewarding. Halfway into my time with Nexos Comunitarios, I can honestly say that I was right about the rewarding nature of the work, trekking up a mountain to visit Cuncani, knowing many of the families and their children by name, and seeing familiar yet otherworldly sights is rewarding. Being part of  an organisation with a proven record of achieving and implementing development roles is also rewarding. There are however, huge challenges associated with working in communities like Cuncani.

Cuncani Nexos ComunitariosOn June 23rd I was had to go to Cuncani to participate in a meeting with the community to discuss about the next steps of our work together. After arriving in the community I found myself in a room with many  community members. As few of them speak Spanish, Saturnina, our local coordinator, was there to talk to the parents too, and to translate. Quickly, I realised that the meeting would not go as I expected. I explained everything as planned, but people just did not seem interested. At least, that what I thought that time.

After my relatively brief outline of our activities in Cuncani, the school director took over the meeting. I was not expecting the changes within the meeting after his participation. After hours of discussions, participation from parents, another teacher and the principal I understood he was upset and frustrated due to the fact  that the government was not paying on of the teachers in the school, to the poor test results of students. The feeling in the room became tense, there was yelling, screaming, arguing, it disintegrated fast. Perhaps I was shielded from the events as the entire meeting was in Quechua, and aside from what my limited Quechua skills could ascertain, the translations to Spanish from our local coordinator were all I could understand.

When the meeting was over, I came back to Urubamba and had a meeting to reflect on what just happened. There were many things to take into account! The dynamics between the principal and the parents, as well as the impact this could have on the initiatives we are developing concerned me. This was not simply because the the PhotoVoice Project takes place in the school, our Lunch Program and the future initiatives.

Cuncani NCDespite the gravity of the issues at hand, and the difficulties posed by these, I wittness through it all, there remains a palpable desire by community members to keep working together to effect positive change. Last week we had our first walk as part of the ‘Participatory video’ we are working on, together, it was a great sucess! Maybe we all need to remember that, We, at NC, believe that ever challenge leads to a great success!

This meeting was a very important lesson to me, one that I didn’t learn from a book or a class, but one that I learned from the field and won’t ever forget.