Majes Irrigation, Peru


Duration:11 years


Country: Peru

What did this project achieve?

Build an irrigation system to make desert land fertile

The Majes irrigation system is one of three major irrigation schemes in Peru. The project is in the Arequipa region in the south-west of the country.

The other two schemes are at Chira-Piura in the Piura region and Tinajones in the Lambayeque region. Both areas are on Peru’s north-west coast.

The first phase of the project in 1971 saw the construction of the Condoroma Dam above the Colca Valley in the Majes district. The dam is 4,158m above sea level.

Water from the dam passes down the valley through 101km of tunnels and canals into a network of irrigation canals that crisscross the desert region below.

The scheme was designed to create economic growth for the area based on agricultural and industrial production. The first waters arrived on the land in 1982 – the first settlers arrived shortly after.

Thirty years on from the start of the project, 150km² of desert in the Majes district has been transformed into fertile land. As well as agricultural and other businesses, around 2,600 individual farmers make a living from the area.

Crops grown in the region now include artichokes, avocado and quinoa. There are also dairy farms producing milk and cheese.

Around 120,000 people now live and work in the Majes region.

Difference the project has made

The Majes irrigation scheme has turned 150km² of desert into fertile farmland.

The project has changed thousands of lives – many farmers can now produce crops to support themselves and their families.

Although not all the settlers have prospered, the scheme has helped create an economy in a region where there was previously very little economic activity.

How the work was done

The Majes irrigation scheme consists of the Condoroma dam in the Colca valley, 88km of canals and 13km of tunnels.

The Condoroma is a rockfill dam 472m long and 90m high. The reservoir it creates can hold up to 280m cubic metres of water and generate up to 656MW of hydropower.

A rockfill dam is one that mainly contains compacted rock material. Engineers build them to resemble a bank or hill.

The structure works because the force of the river or reservoir behind it hits the core of the embankment. The force is then transferred down the dam to its foundations.

Rockfill dams are normally built from locally-sourced stone. This makes them economical. Unlike earth or concrete dams, they can also be built in wet weather.


Majes is seen as a green paradise of opportunities and [also] as a chaotic place that is growing out of proportions at an accelerated speed.

Astrid Stensrud

Academic, writing on the University of Oslo website. 12 March 2014

Fascinating facts

There were 592 people in the first group of settlers who moved to the Majes district after the waters arrived in 1982.

Settlers were selected by ballot from different groups. Groups included smallholding farmers, landless peasants and agricultural workers as well as ‘professionals’ – doctors, lawyers and engineers.

All the Majes settlers were able to buy 5 hectares of the newly-irrigated land with a state-subsidised loan.

People who made it happen

  • Client: government of Peru
  • Construction engineers: a consortium of companies from Sweden, the UK, Spain, Italy and South Africa

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