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.