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1 August 2004 CONDESAN: Watershed Management and Rural Development in the Andes
Hector Cisneros, Elías Mujica, Ana María Ponce
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CONDESAN (Consortium for the Sustainable Development of the Andean Ecoregion) is a 10-year-old group of more than 70 organizations—national and international, public and private, and including universities, Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) centers, development NGOs, research institutions, government agencies, municipalities, and producer associations. A key part of CONDESAN's work takes place in areas (including specific watersheds) that are representative Andean ecosystems. CONDESAN benchmark sites are: Mérida in Venezuela, Manizales in Colombia, Carchi in Ecuador, Cajamarca and Puno in Peru, Cochabamba in Bolivia, Jujuy in Argentina.

Interlocking goals of sustainable natural resource management

CONDESAN focuses on 3 interlocking goals: sustainable natural resource management, improving rural incomes, and social equity (Figure 1). The objective of the Consortium is to create regional capacity to conduct research and development projects based on an understanding of natural resource management, the development of environmentally sound production systems, and policies that improve the lives of Andean communities. CONDESAN's overall aim is to reduce poverty and reverse natural resource degradation in the Andes.

CONDESAN's geographic coverage: páramos, jalcas, punas, etc

CONDESAN benchmark sites broadly represent the region's 3 major ecological zones: the “green” or humid Andes of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and northern Peru; the “brown” or semi-arid Andes from northern Peru to Bolivia's eastern cordillera and Argentina; and the “yellow” Andes, or altiplano, of southern Peru and Bolivia. Cross-sectional themes are sometimes applied to a larger number of sites or to the region as a whole. Within the Andean highlands (páramos, jalcas and punas), CONDESAN's target population is poor farmer groups. Farming (mainly tubers and grains) and cattle-raising are the main activities, although income generation comprises additional efforts.

The CONDESAN coordination unit

CONDESAN is a dynamic consortium of diverse research and development partners facilitated by a small coordination unit (CU) in Lima, Peru, at the International Potato Center (CIP). The CU is supported by a technical council comprised of leaders of CONDESAN initiatives (CI) (including benchmark site and project leaders). Partner institutions implement projects, whereas the CU promotes synergies, facilitates linkages between institutions, and supports development and dissemination of tools and methodologies.

The InfoAndina Electronic Network is CONDESAN's main communication tool. It continually disseminates relevant information on key regional events and new opportunities. It also organizes electronic consultations, promoting the application of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to facilitate information and knowledge exchange on mountain development issues through special discussion groups, and provides a regional platform for the operations of the Mountain Forum's Latin American Node. The CU promotes the establishment of synergies between Andean research and development organizations and stakeholders. Linkages among regional projects are also actively promoted to establish synergies and share common resources to optimize operations at the regional level.

Main achievements

  • InfoAndina, the electronic information system—a key component of the Consortium's team-building strategy—has been permanently expanding in terms of clients and services offered. It organizes periodic E-conferences to exchange best practices on development issues, and facilitates information exchange on key issues in the region, applying low-cost communication tools.

  • The capacity to expand understanding of natural resource management, created at regional level through development of a watershed characterization assessment methodology; creation of platforms for resolution of natural resources-related conflicts; and development of a watershed commonwealth mentality.

  • Development of environmentally sound and profitable alternatives to enhance incomes for mountain dwellers: a) promotion of production-to-consumption systems for Andean crops and livestock; crop focus on potatoes, other Andean roots and tubers, fruits and grains; livestock production options in the Andes (beef, dairy products and camelids), expanded through improved forage production and herd management techniques; b) development of community based non-agricultural options.

  • Negotiation tables, with access to good information, are cornerstones of watershed development projects in the Andes. Projects take advantage of the CONDESAN watershed analysis methodology and irrigation systems analysis to estimate social and biophysical externalities associated with alternative land use patterns. Productive projects are developed based on strategic alliances between entrepreneurs and producers and promote the marketing of Andean crops and livestock and value-added enterprises.

CONDESAN regional initiatives

CONDESAN is implementing initiatives of a regional nature, thus not only establishing effective links between research and development organizations but also integrating different Andean countries and sites in the operation of interconnected ecoregional projects. CONDESAN's Coordination Unit is increasingly involved in activities that add value to those being carried out by partners at specific sites and in specific projects. A re-vitalized Technical Committee is already in place with clearer duties to contribute to synthesis and integration of knowledge in the framework of initiatives in the Andes.

CONDESAN is currently engaged in the following projects:

  • Conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use of the páramo in the northern and central Andes (GEF). This initiative promotes regional conservation and development projects for the páramo ecosystem in 4 countries; environmental services valuation and land use, policy analysis; and strategies for public awareness, training, education and networking. Implementing agencies are UNEP and IADB. CONDESAN is the executing agency.

  • Sustainable land use in watersheds of the Andes (GTZ-CONDESAN-REDCAPA). This regional project, initially in 8 watersheds from Colombia to southern Peru, started in July 2003, with a duration of 8 years. It applies watershed analysis methods based on environmental externalities to prioritize intervention activities and promote co-investment at the local level. It promotes linkages among the externalities, fosters co-investment through strategic alliances, and provides opportunities to propose policy changes for increased impact.

  • Andean hub of the pro-poor livestock policy initiative (FAO). This is a regional project (Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia) focusing on Andean highlands where livestock has a potential to reduce poverty through the application of policy regulations. A proposal is being elaborated with inputs from national and regional workshops to discuss policy analysis and proposals for change at different scales.

  • Andean Water Vision from an Indigenous and Peasant Perspective (IDRC). This ongoing regional project is being implemented in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia (with inputs from Chile and Argentina as well). It was presented at different international forums, raising water vision awareness among indigenous populations. A new phase is being negotiated for a broader social vision that will include economic aspects, in a proposal with key stakeholders.

  • CGIAR challenge program on water and food (Future Harvest Centers). CONDESAN is the coordinator of the Andean system of basins for this challenge program of the Future Harvest Centers. It participates as a convener of research and development institutions, bringing together, complementing and creating synergies among Andean initiatives. It shapes orientation of the research agenda in the Andes through competitive funds. (

  • Water rights in Bolivia (IDRC). Conflicting water rights are modeled within a micro-basin to promote dialogue and participatory discussion and long-term solutions. Designed to provide inputs for new water legislation in Bolivia, this project is a good example of linking research to development with replication potential for other countries in the region.

  • CONDESAN and the Andean community of nations (CAN). The Coordination Unit has also been participating actively in positioning the Consortium at the regional level. CONDESAN has signed a Letter of Understanding with the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) for mutual support in the conservation of Andean biodiversity and management of natural resources. CONDESAN supports a recent initiative to create a Regional Center to Combat Desertification in the Andes and Brazil.

Challenges for the future

CONDESAN will combine actions under a common strategy for the next 3–5 years in order to integrate sites and projects effectively. It will focus on the value added that the Consortium can provide to its members, such as knowledge exchange. CONDESAN's Technical Committee will consolidate in a new format, composed of benchmark site leaders and regional initiatives.


Hector Cisneros, Elías Mujica, and Ana María Ponce "CONDESAN: Watershed Management and Rural Development in the Andes," Mountain Research and Development 24(3), 258-259, (1 August 2004).[0258:CWMARD]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 August 2004
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