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<Sourcebook of Alternative Technologies for Freshwater Augumentation
in Latin America and The Caribbean>



4.1 Raised Beds and Waru Waru Cultivation

This technology is based on modification of the soil surface to facilitate water movement and storage, and to increase the organic content of the soil to increase its suitability for cultivation. This system of soil management for irrigation purposes was first developed in the year 300 B.C., before the rise of the Inca Empire. It was later abandoned as more technically advanced irrigation technologies were discovered. Nevertheless, in 1984, in Tiawanaco, Bolivia, and Puno, Peru, the system was re-established. It is known in the region as Waru Waru, which is the traditional Indian (Quechua) name for this technique.

Technical Description

The technology is a combination of rehabilitation of marginal soils, drainage improvement, water storage, optimal utilization of available radiant energy, and attenuation of the effects of frost. The main feature of this system is the construction of a network of embankments and canals, as shown in Figure 32. The embankments serve as raised beds for cultivation of crops, while the canals are used for water storage and to irrigate the plants. The soils used for the embankments are compacted to facilitate water retention by reducing porosity, permeability, and infiltration. Infiltration in the clay soils of the region varies from 20% to 30% of the precipitation volume. Thus, clay soils are preferred for this purpose. Sandy soils have too great a porosity to retain the water within the beds.

The cultivation takes place in the "new" soils within the raised bed created by the construction of the embankment. Within the bed, the increased porosity of the new soils results in enhanced infiltration, often increasing infiltration by 80% to 100% of the original soil. This system permits the recycling of nutrients and and all the other chemical and biological processes necessary for crop production. Water uptake by the raised beds is through diffusion and capillary movements using water contained within the beds or supplied from the surrounding canals. The soils are kept at an adequate moisture level to facilitate the cultivation of plants such as potatoes and quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa). Thermal energy is captured and retained in the soil as a result of the enhanced moisture levels, which protect the soils of the bed from the effects of frost. The system acts as a thermoregulator of the microclimate within the bed.

There are three types of raised bed systems, characterized by the source of water:

  • Rainwater systems, in which rainwater is the primary source of moisture. These systems require small lagoons for storage during dry periods and a system of canals to distribute the water to the beds. They are usually located at the base of a hill or a mountain, as shown in Figure 33.
  • Fluvial systems, in which moisture is supplied by water from nearby rivers. These systems require a hydraulic infrastructure, such as canals and dikes, to transport the water, as shown in Figure 34.
  • Phreatic systems, in which groundwater is the source of moisture in the beds. These systems are located in areas where the groundwater table is close to the surface of the soil and there is a mechanism for groundwater recharge, such as an infiltration lagoon, as shown in Figure 35.

The main design considerations for raised bed cultivation include the following:

  • Depth of the water table, since a high water table increases the height of the embankment required.
  • Soil characteristics, which affect both the dimensions of the embankment and the nature of the cultivation zone.

Figure 32

(larger image)

Figure 32: Raised Bed Irrigation System in Puno, Peru.
Source: Alipio C. Murilo and Ludgardo L. Mamani, Manual Técnico de Waru Waru, Para la Reconstrucción, Producción y Evaluación Económica, Puno, Peru, Programa Interinstitucional de Waru Waru, Convenio PELT/INADE-IC/COTESU, 1992.

Figure 33

(larger image)

Figure 33: Design of a Rainwater Waru Waru System.
Source: Alipio C. Murilo and Ludgardo L. Mamani, Manual Técnico de Waru Waru, Para la Reconstrucción, Producción y Evaluación Económica, Puno, Peru, Programa Interinstitucional de Waru Waru, Convenio PELT/INADE-IC/COTESU, 1992.


Figure 34
(larger image)

Figure 34: Design of a Fluvial Waru Waru System.
Source: Alipio C. Murilo and Ludgardo L. Mamani, Manual Técnico de Waru Waru, Para la Reconstrucción, Producción y Evaluación Económica, Puno, Peru, Programa Interinstitucional de Waru Waru, Convenio PELT/INADE-IC/COTESU, 1992.

Figure 35
(larger image)

Figure 35: Design of a Phreatic Waru Waru System.
Source: Alipio C. Murilo and Ludgardo L. Mamani, Manual Técnico de Waru Waru, Para la Reconstrucción, Producción y Evaluación Económica, Puno, Peru, Programa Interinstitucional de Waru Waru, Convenio PELT/INADE-IC/COTESU, 1992.

Figure 36
(larger image)

Figure 36: Cross-section of a Canal, Embankment and Raised Bed System.
Source: Alipio C. Murilo and Ludgardo L. Mamani, Manual Técnico de Waru Waru, Para la Reconstrucción, Producción y Evaluación Económica, Puno, Peru, Programa Interinstitucional de Waru Waru, Convenio PELT/INADE-IC/COTESU, 1992.

  • Climatic conditions, which include the volume and frequency of rainfall, temperature range, and frost frequency.

An example of a typical embankment and canal system is shown in Figure 36. Soft fill (e.g., compost or mulch) might be required within the embanked bed to maintain an adequate level of soil moisture.

Extent of Use

This technology has been used primarily in the Lake Titicaca region at Puno, Peru, and in the Illpa River basin of Bolivia.

Operation and Maintenance

Periodic reconstruction of the embankments or raised beds is necessary to repair damage caused by erosion and water piping. Reconstruction is usually done during the dry season (March to May, in Peru), although in some areas it is done immediately after harvesting because of a lack of available labor at other times of the year. Cultivation of pasture and other grasses of differing heights on the embankments will help to prevent or control erosion caused by torrential rains during the wet season. Cultivation practices can also damage the embankments. Raising animals such as hogs near the embankments should be avoided, since they can damage the cultivation areas in their search for food.

Periodic fertilization of the raised beds is recommended, and the use of insecticides and fungicides may be necessary to limit crop damage. Insecticides are particularly advisable in the cultivation of potatoes.

Level of Involvement

This technology has been promoted, and assistance to farmers provided, by several Peruvian governmental organizations, including the Instituto Nacional de Investigación Agro-pecuaria y Agroindustrial (INIAA), the Centro de Investigación Agropecuaria Salcedo (CIAS), the Centro de Proyectos Integrales Andinos (CEPIA), and by a number of NGOs. These organizations intend to reconstruct 500 ha of Waru Waru in 72 rural communities in the vicinity of Puno. Such an approach is considered to be representative of the involvement necessary to successfully implement a Waru Waru cultivation program in the region. Once established, the operation and maintenance of the systems, like the planting and harvesting of agricultural products, becomes the responsibility of the farmers who benefit from the use of this technology.


Very little information is available on the costs of these systems. The technology is at present largely experimental and limited to portions of the Andean Altiplano in Peru and Bolivia. Nevertheless, the cost per hectare of a phreatic raised-bed system for the cultivation of potatoes is estimated at $1 460 on the basis of the system created in Chatuma, Peru. Of this, 70% is direct cost and 30% is indirect cost. The production cost for 11.2 kg of potatoes using this technology in Chatuma was estimated at $480. The technology produces economic benefits during the first 3 years following construction, but, shortly thereafter reconstruction becomes necessary to maintain the productivity of the system.

Effectiveness of the Technology

In the communities around Puno, during the seven-year period between 1982 and 1989, 229 ha were converted to this technology, with mixed results. Some areas experienced large increases in productivity, particularly in the cultivation of potatoes, while other areas did not. Climatic conditions, such as drought and extremely cold weather, are likely to have contributed to the decrease in productivity in some areas, while poor design and construction of embankments may have led to the decline in productivity recorded in others.


This technology is suitable in areas with extreme climatic conditions, such as mountainous areas that experience heavy rainfalls and periodic droughts, and where temperature fluctuations range from intense heat to frost. It should be very useful in arid and semi-arid areas.


  • This technology can contribute to mitigating the effects of extreme climatic variations.
  • The construction cost is relatively low.
  • It can increase the production of certain agricultural crops.


  • The life span of the technology is relatively short; the systems require reconstruction after about 3 years of operation.
  • Testing of soil texture and composition is necessary before implementation.
  • Waru Waru systems require annual maintenance and periodic repair.

Cultural Acceptability

This is an ancient technology, well accepted in the agricultural communities of Peru and Bolivia.

Further Development of the Technology

Application of this technology in other areas with different soil and climatic conditions will be a measure of its potential utility outside of the areas where it is traditionally used. Improvements in the design of the raised bed cultivation system are necessary in order to extend the economic life of the technology and to minimize the need for regular reconstruction of the beds to maintain their productivity.

Information Sources


Hugo Rodríguez, Jefe del Sub-Programa PIWA, Instituto Nacional de Desarrollo (INADE), Proyecto Especial Binacional Lago Titicaca (PELT), Av. El Sol 839, Puno, Perú. Tel. (51-54)35-2305. Fax (51-54)35-2392.

Juan Ocola Salazar, Especialista, Instituto Nacional de Desarrollo (INADE), Proyecto Especial Binacional Lago Titicaca (PELT), Av. El Sol 839, Puno, Perú. Tel. (51-54)35-2305. Fax (51-54)35-2392.

Manuel Tapia Muñoz, Director General de Aguas y Suelos, Instituto Nacional de Recursos Naturales (INRENA), Calle 17 N, 355, Urb. El Palomar, San Isidro, Lima 27, Perú. Tel. (51-1)224-3298 / 224-2858. Fax (51-1)224-3218.


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