Beach Therapy Leads To Pivoting for Success in Peru

The Peruvian coastline is bathed by Pacific waves all year long. This is good news for surfers and is also good for strategic thinking and solving problems in Peru’s agriculture sector, says German Mori Arbulu. “I could surf 24-hours a day,” said Arbulu, who late last year completed his three-year project with Securing Water for Food (SWFF), an internationally funded program to meet food and water challenges in Peru and worldwide. As practicalities would have it, there was always work to be done, but the young development worker reserved several hours each morning for Lima’s nearby beaches and their harkening waves where he is an accomplished surfer. 

It’s probably a good thing he did. The morning regimen allowed him to work out nagging issues related to a scientifically measured irrigation program that had development hiccups from almost the very beginning. Arbulu works with the Rome-based ICU (Institute for University Co-operation Onlus), which won grants and technical assistance from SWFF through a competitive program sponsored by USAID and the governments of South Africa, Sweden, and the Netherlands. 

In total, only 40 innovators worldwide were chosen, most in areas challenged with too little or too much water, including sub-Saharan Africa, India, Bangladesh, and Southeast Asia. 

The South American project, however, was in a category of its own.

I believe it can and will be sustainable.

When the ICU program was launched in Peru, it soon became evident they needed to pivot to another agricultural model when the company’s technical partner suddenly dropped out. “They figured the emphasis on small farmers wouldn’t be sustainable in the long term given the cost of equipment, and they were probably right,” said Arbulu. 

So, the avid surfer applied his beach therapy and with advice from SWFF’s Technical Assistance team and in consultation with ICU officials, decided that another direction had a better chance of success. “We changed our philosophy,” Arbulu added. “While we still worked with small landholders, we began working with them through agriculture cooperatives. It was the right direction.” This reassessment allowed the SWFF project to combine resources so the irrigation monitoring equipment could be afforded and installed.

“For me, surfing is therapy,” said the project director, who has his entire family involved in the sport. “My personality is that I do and think about a lot of things at the same time. It keeps me in balance, and is helpful in coming up with creative solutions to problems.”

Besides, he added, “It’s the only sport that I do well.”

As originally envisioned, the purpose of the program was to aid small landholders to grow and market crops. Large industrial, agricultural enterprises didn’t require such assistance. “It was a difficult situation,” said Arbulu. “We needed a new technical partner, and we needed to secure additional funding to meet goals that had been set for us. We had to scramble and utilize our entrepreneurial wits.”

ICU’s innovation combines advanced weather technology in the field, which is relayed via a website to farmers, letting them know when to irrigate and how much water to use. Previously, most farmers depended on gravitational irrigation, which couldn’t be controlled and wasted water.

Under ICU, the equipment is monitored and distributes water automatically. Arbulu credits the technical assistance from SWFF as playing a large role in the program’s success to date. Though the program has, for all practical purposes and funding, wound down, Arbulu is confident of continued success with the momentum created over the last three years. 

“I believe it can and will be sustainable,” he said. 

Arbulu is currently spending more time these days with ICU’s fisheries projects in the northern part of Peru but keeps tabs on the progress made through the measured irrigation system. To cap off SWFF’s participation in the program, the team’s efforts resulted late last year in a prize for development and innovation, which was presented by the Peruvian Minister of the Environment. 

“We were very proud of that achievement,” said Arbulu. “It was the recognition of our success.”


USAID, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and the Governments of The Netherlands and South Africa invested $34 million in Securing Water for Food (SWFF) to promote science and technology solutions that enable the production of more food with less water and/or make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.

This story was developed through the SWFF Social Impact Storytelling Initiative which was established to document innovator journeys and social impact as they work to improve the way water is being used for agriculture. #socialimpact #innovation #agriculture #water