The costs of Peru’s farming boom: The fight began early one morning on a sandy dirt road between fields of lima beans, where farmers discovered an excavator machine digging a trench for a water pipe. Infuriated that the pipe would carry water pumped from beneath their farms, a crowd gathered and drove away the crew of workers in a fit of shouts.
Then the protesters set fire to the plastic pipes, leaving them charred and warped on the side of the road.
As tensions rose in the days after that confrontation, threats flew between the protesters and a group of men sent by the company that was laying the pipes. Some of the men wielded wooden clubs, a machete and a baseball bat. Some of the protesters faced criminal charges.
In this feud over water, small farmers in the Peruvian town of Ocucaje are trying to challenge what they view as a water grab by a company that exports grapes and asparagus. It’s a type of conflict on the rise in parts of the world where groundwater is overexploited and in decline. And in southern Peru, disputes over water have grown especially bitter as some big farms have bought up wells and started piping water to fields miles away.