Written by Jason Houston, photojournalist
It rained most of the first three days of my visit to Nueva Cajamarca, Peru. Straight-down tropical rain drenched the day while nighttime thunderstorms set off car alarms. The contrast for me is strong. I live in Colorado, in the transition between the great American high desert plains and the alpine landscapes of the Rocky Mountains. We get over 300 days a year of clear skies and very little precipitation. Water issues here mean no water. A dry winter means restrictions allowing us to water our lawns just twice a week, making them all stiff and brown. Here in the Amazonian highlands it is different. It is perpetually overgrown with green and water is seemingly ubiquitous. The rivers snaking down from the Alto Mayo protected area to the west swell with water year-round, feeding one of the world’s greatest rivers on it’s way through one of the world’s largest rain forests. Yet in spite of this contrast, water here is fundamentally the same: water from upstream flows downstream. It is used along the way, impacted by all it flows through, taking on the good and the bad in direct response to how it is treated.
My assignment with Rare is to photograph Rare Conservation Fellow Rina Gamarra – who works for Conservation Internationale – the Rio Yuracyacu and the public launch of Rina’s Pride campaign. Pride campaigns are Rare’s signature product designed to instill community pride in natural resources through mainstream marketing techniques. Rina’s campaign aims to promote reciprocal water agreements, which offer upstream farming communities an incentive to protect the water supply funded by the water users downstream in the town of Nueva Cajamarca. This week she will introduce her campaign to the community, which will raise awareness and generate support for the incentives established through a conservation fund attached to the municipal water bill.
Nueva Cajamarca is more a hub than a destination. Several hours by jungle highway from the nearest small airport, a chaotic mix of people from other parts of Peru populates Nueva Cajamarca — a place where most people just pass through. Their basic economy is commodity agriculture. Farmers in the outlying rural areas deliver their harvests — mostly coffee and corn — to distributors, who aggregate, then pass the goods up the supply chain. The rest of the town appears to exist to support this industry with the usual services, supplies and day-to-day retail. Also passing through, on the north end of town, is the Rio Yuracyacu. It is a swollen Amazonian tributary flowing from the Alto Mayo, and the source of water for all of Nueva Cajamarca.
The first few days of my visit were spent hanging around the municipal buildings shadowing Rina as she went about the final preparations for the massive parade she was planning to launch her campaign. The event was scheduled to coincide with World Water Day and included many hooks to get the local community out and involved. Her tasks in these final hours of preparation flipped back and forth from directing local student volunteers in making placards to meeting with the mayor for final approval of the event plans to doing interviews with the local radio and TV stations.
In the final hours leading up to the event, it was not certain the parade would even happen. Though rain is commonplace here, there are still some things (such as kids in cardboard and papier-mache costumes) that will shut down the parade. But the weather held and the parade went off as planned, with tremendous community participation.
All Photos by Jason Houston. Click image to see full photo and caption.