Radio-interview with Minka Zeilstra of Blue Butterfly Naturals

Minka Zeilstra is Dutch importer and happy owner of the webshop Blue Butterfly Naturals. This sympathetic entrepreneur sells natural textile products and accessories of the Peruvian Andes and jungle in Europe. As radio-commentator at Radioprogram AMIGOS (directed by Lida Poldervaart Ramirez) I was curious to know about her business experience, her mission and future goals. Here below the interview.

Angélica: “How was your company born? Do you have a specific mission?”

Minka: “In 2010 I made a great trip around Chile, Bolivia and Peru. This trip opened a whole new world for me. I saw the most beautiful mountains in the world, the Andes. I saw the alpacas in Bolivia and Peru, and the unique wool products the people made by hand. The local people are very poor but they live a dignified life. I was touched by that. Once back in the Netherlands I realized there should be a market for alpaca wool and these beautiful handmade products. So I started Blue Butterfly Naturals with the mission to buy directly from these manufacturers so that they would benefit themselves the most. It is very important to me that the local craftsmen benefit and that they are not abused as happens regularly. For example there have been Australian and Chinese companies in Peru importing the alpacas for purely commercial motives.”

Angélica: “What are your best selling products? And what are your future plans?”

Minka: “Until last year socks and gloves of alpaca wool were favorites. Oh, and the baby hats. Other popular products are the alpaca shoes and the alpaca coat. But it is not easy to keep my business affordable due to import tariffs.
Furthermore, due to another busy job, I do not always have enough time to dedicate myself sufficiently to my company. For the future I want a more serious website that works better. I would also like to offer my products in other European countries. I am thinking of Norway and Germany. In recent years I have had sufficient clients from Belgium. The Dutch people still do not really know how to value products made by hand with Alpaca wool. They are not always willing to pay the price it deserves. In addition to alpaca wool products, I want to develop more hand-woven bags. With natural dyed textiles, so there are no chemicals applied.”

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Angélica: “How do you see sustainability in the textile sector in Peru? How do you try to discern yourself as a company in that aspect?”

Minka: “I think, without really realizing it, the Peruvians have a fairly sustainable textile production, because it is usually natural. But to really create a sustainable label for the export market it is more complicated, because a lot of intermediaries enter the market.

Concerning my own business activities, for the bags I sell, I work together with a foundation in Peru that allows me to buy directly from the weavers. They have the same goal: they only use natural raw materials and wool dyed with natural means, and also handmade. So there is no residual water or processed plastic.
For my alpaca products I work together with individual craftsmen/women and I always ask them to use pure wool or hair. You have to explain it to them because sometimes they do not care about or understand the importance of having pure wool.”

Peru’s animal gold: the Alpaca

Tonight on radioprogram Amigos at Radio Capelle (105.3FM- Dutch radio) I spoke about Peru’s “animal gold”: the alpaca. Here below a short summary for those who missed it!

The alpaca is an animal of the family of South American camelids (like the llama and the vicuna). They spend the whole year at 3500 to 5000 meters in the Andes, and can be found in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru. The most important population of the alpaca resides in the Andes of Peru. Since the alpaca is lucrative business, other countries also started breeding alpacas in the 21st century, for example the US and Australia.

alpaca in peruaanse hoogland

Alpacas are used for the production of fibers, primarily to make high-quality clothing and other textiles. There are around 3 million alpacas in the world, especially because their wool is so valuable; more valuable than sheep wool or llama wool. The alpaca wool is finer, softer and of better quality, which is why there is a higher price-tag on it.  A product made with Alpaca fibers is really considered a luxury item, usually bought by people with a higher income.

alpaca poncho.jpg

Peru is the most important exporter (exporting 90% of the Alpaca in the world) and the most important producer of alpaca fibers in the world. More than 60% of national production is destined for the external market. Arequipa is the region from which almost all shipments originate. The main importers are China, the United States, Italy, Norway and the United Kingdom.

The alpaca production and business makes a positive contribution to the family economy of the Andean population and to ecotourism. In the Andean highland cattle breeding is the most important source of income, and it generates jobs. The income provided by the alpaca industry also contributes to food security for farmers.

Some problems that threaten the production of the alpaca are among others population decline in the high Andes, export of genetic material with reduction of the national genetic pool, and the negative effects of climate change.

alpaca in cuzco

 

Peru’s superfood Maca is booming business. But at what cost?

Tonight on the radioprogram AMIGOS of Radio Capelle 7-8pm Dutch time at 105.3FM I will be sharing about the Maca, its benefits, its origins, and ofcourse, some info related to its production, international trade and sustainability issues.

The MACA is a plant grown in the Andean region of South America, mainly in Peru. It grows in harsh conditions more than 4000 meters sea level. Although the maca was already an important food during the Inca empire, it is since 1990 that the maca became known outside the Andean region of Peru. This thanks to the work of the researcher Gloria Chacon who identified the maca and gave it its name. Nowadays, MACA is considered a superfood and it is rich in proteins, fibers, minerals and vitamins. It has become a very popular product due to many favorable health properties. Just to name some: it gives energy, it improves the feminine and masculine fertility, sexual desire and mental capacities like memory and concentration.

Maca

90% of the maca that is commercialized internationally originates from Peru. 91% of all maca is produced in the Peruvian province of Junin, and maca is also their most important source of income. Some figures: from 2013 to 2014 surface used for maca cultivation grew from 2,428 hectares to 4,051 hectares in the Junín, Pasco, Huancavelica, Puno and Ayacucho regions. Due to the increasing demand production has been extended to Tarma, Jauja, Huancayo, Pampas and Cuzco.

3 tipos de maca

foto_villegas_huancayo_maca_09

The last couple of years the exports have grown enormously, and the most important importers of Maca are the United States, Hong Kong, China and Japan, followed by some European countries like Germany and Belgium.

Expansion of the production of Maca due to a growing demand has not been unproblematic for Peru. The “boom of the maca” caused rapid conversion of high Andean grasslands into farmland, thus transforming the landscape, ecosystem, economy and society of the high Andean area of Junín. Junín is originally a region of cattle breeding, with camelids like llamas, alpacas and vicuñas, and the Maca-boom has led to displacing livestock to grazing, the main livelihood of rural families in the area.

Maca-production is not continuosly possible and it causes soil erosion. After about 3 years of Maca production the soil has to be at rest for about 10 years. This has caused the peasants to look for other lands at a higher altitude. So nowadays more areas of bare soil, lands in preparation and lands in recovery are observed. Increased maca production has disturbed not only wildlife but also the carbon reserves in the soils and the water retention and filtration capacity.

maca -imagen_pampas_junin_01

Furthermore, there has been a serious threat to the maca business. A few years ago, Chinese companies began to illegally import the Maca plant. China is producing its own Maca now and has become a competitor in the maca-market. This has caused a fall in the maca prices, especially in 2015.

Finally, peasants who cultivate the maca generally have a low income and do not always work under favorable conditions. There are some companies and state programs who in cooperation with international organizations promote the organic and sustainable production of maca, including better working conditions for Maca producers.