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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

NGO AMPA: connecting the Peruvian gastronomy with sustainable use of natural resources of the Amazon forests.

Last week I had the honor to interview the Peruvian Miguel Tang Tuesta, Director Green Economy of the foundation AMPA Peru, who was visiting the Netherlands. See below video in Spanish:

Just recently Miguel has been appointed as Amazon Embassador of the Province of Maynas for his great work in the area of biotrade, investigation and conservation of biodiversity of the Peruvian Amazon.

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Miguel Tang Tuesta- Amazon Embassador of the Province of Maynas, Peru & Director Green Economy of the foundation AMPA PERU

The foundation AMPA Peru won the very prestigious Green Latinamerican Award in September 2017 with their project “Gastronomy and Conservation”. This award can be won for important projects in the area of protection of biodiversity.

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Miguel Tang Tuesta and Karina Pinasco of AMPA PERU receive the Green Latinamerican Award 2017

In the interview Miguel very passionately mentioned how in this project the excellent Peruvian top cuisine is connected to sustainably derived natural ingredients from tropical forests from the Peruvian Amazon region. This generates income and development for the indigenous communities who manage the tropical forest. AMPA PERU teaches and has taught the communities to make sustainable use of the natural resources of the forest, without causing any deforestation; thus conserving the forest and its natural resources. Examples of these natural resources are: the “aguaje”, coconuts, mushrooms, and many other resources.

Adding natural ingredients from the Amazon forest to menus of Peruvian topchefs also enables innovation in the Peruvian cuisine. So the project Gastronomy and Conservation promotes a sustainable cuisine.

You can also find the interview with subtitles on YouTube. Click in the following link: Interview with Miguel Tang Tuesta

A naturally sustainable opportunity, the Peruvian Chestnut.

Every Wednesday on the Radioprogram AMIGOS (from 7 to 8pm Dutch time), I comment (in Spanish and in Dutch) on a topic related to sustainability and trade in/with Latin America. Ofcourse with a special attention for Peru. The program is broadcasted through Radio Capellehttp://www.radiocapelle.nl. You can also tune in to 105.3FM. After the program I publish my comments on this blog. So if you missed it last Wednesday you can read about it here below:

The chestnut, also known as the Brazil nut, the Amazon nut or the Almond grows within the “cocos” (nutshells) on a tree native to South America, “el Castaño”. This tree grows especially in the Amazon of Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Guayana.

The chestnut is considered a superfood because it is a very nutritious and healthy dry fruit. It is rich in fibers, minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates, has high quality vegetable proteins, it contains all important amino acids, is gluten free, and has the omega 6 and 3 acids. It is not only applied for nutrition but also for beauty products. For example the oils of the chestnut are applied in cosmetics such as moisturizers.

In Latin America, Bolivia is the main producer and exporter of Brazil nuts, followed by Peru. Just for illustration: Bolivia exported almost 25,000 tons, which is more than half of the total exported by the world in 2016. Peru in that year was far behind with some 5500 tons. Among the main importers of shelled chestnuts are the USA, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

In Peru, most of the national production of Brazil nuts is concentrated in Madre de Dios, which is a big jungle region in Peru. 20% of the population of Madre de Dios is working in the chestnut sector, which equals about 20,000 people. 30% of the surface of Madre de Dios is covered with chestnut trees.

There is a sustainable use of the chestnut, especially since it is the only species in the nuts-market that comes from wild collection. So it is not something that needs to be cultivated, because it is a fruit that falls from the trees. It only needs to be harvested by the chestnut collectors (los castañeros).

The Peruvian government is the official owner of the chestnut trees, but it gives concessions for 40 renewable years to groups of families that traditionally work this resource. What does it mean to be a concession holder? This is important to explain because it implies both the right to harvest the chestnut as well as the obligation to defend the forests of loggers, illegal mining and the passage of drug trafficking. These are one of the biggest threats in the Peruvian jungle.

The “castañeros” are organized in associations and have generally managed to obtain the organic certification. There are also those that have achieved the fairtrade certification.

The chestnut is a relevant source of income for those who work in the chestnut sector in Madre de Dios, and therefore important for the economic development of this region. In 2009 Madre de Dios declared the chestnut as its flagship product.

The chestnut activity also helps to contribute to the protection of forests and nature. There have been made efforts to expand the chestnut through reforestation, not only in Madre de Dios, but also in other territories of the lower jungle of Peru. The National Institute of Agrarian Innovation (INIA) has managed to develop a technology that has introduced the chestnut in Iquitos and Pucallpa, in order to expand the business possibilities of small producers and recover extensive areas of degraded soils. In conclusion, the chestnut does not only provide healthy fruits and economic development, but it also has an enormous ecological and tourist potential derived from the care of the forests.

Sustainable Peruvian companies at Hi Europe in Amsterdam!

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The 4th of December 2014 I visited Hi Europe in Amsterdam, the world’s leading health and natural food ingredients event. It is actually a business platform where companies from all over the world exhibit their ingredients and solutions for food and drink formulation, dietary supplements, nutraceuticals and personal care products. This day I came with a special task: to see the products of the four Peruvian companies present at this forum and to interview their representatives. I asked them not only about their innovative and natural products but also about their contribution to corporate social and environmental responsibility within the chain.

(For the reader, it must be clear that the information below is derived from interviews with the representatives of the companies itself, and not through thorough solid investigation with third parties. Therefore, I cannot ensure full truth)

The first Peruvian company I visited was Molinos Asociados SAC. This enterprise dedicates itself to creating added value to the fruit of the Tara tree of the Peruvian Andes, which has many traditional applications. The company is lead by the president and CEO Herbert Telge and his two sons.

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Tara seeds can be used for dying fabrics, tanning leather or making medicines. For example, the skin of Tara seeds are ground into a powder from which tannic acid is extracted, which in turn can be used, among others, to make leather supple.

The Tara tree has become part of an impressive boom for farmers in Peru. In Europe the Tara products are appreciated, not only because it is a natural product, but also because it has a positive social impact in the value chain as the production of Tara takes place in the poor rural zones of the Andes. It also has a positive environmental impact as the production of Tara contributes indirectly to the mitigation of climate change. The Tara trees namely grow in dry zones and their growth contributes to moisture retention and the scarcity of water is managed with modern irrigation.

You can watch my interview with Herbert Telge here below.

Next to the exhibition of the Tara products of Molinos Asociados SAC, Patricia Aguilar, commercial director of Agroindustrias Amazonicas , was presenting a very well known Peruvian product, namely the Inca Inchi Oil, which is already being sold in several big Peruvian supermarkets. This oil is the richest natural source of essential fatty acids Omega 6 (36%) and Omega 3 (48%), and is of great importance for cholesterol balance, blood circulation and prevention of cardiovascular attacks and infarcts.

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Agroindustrias Amazonicas started with the development of the organic cultivation of Inca Inchi, a plant from the Amazon, around 2001. The Inca Inchi Oil is manually produced by small farmers there. This oil, derived from the Inca Inchi plant, is a high quality product (adequate technologies are used in the industrial process to preserve the quality of the oil and its proteins), and has both a good impact on the ecology of the Amazon as well as contributes to better living conditions of the small farmers. Furthermore, Inca Inchi Oil benefits the nutrition and health of people worldwide. As you can see in the picture above, the Inca Inchi Oil complies with the requirements of several certifications, such as the European and US organic label.

Watch my interview with Patricia Aguilar at Hi Europe in Amsterdam here below.

The third Peruvian company I visited at Hi Europe, was MG NATURA Peru SACI had the honour to speak with Genaro Valdivia, administrative manager.

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The company was founded in 1999, dedicating itself to Peruvian natural products like Camu Camu, Amaranth, Cat’s Claw, Maca, Quinoa, Sacha Inchi, Yacon and many more. It considers itself as a social and environmental responsible enterprise, working only with genuine products from a known source, and making alliances with a select group of producers and companies. Some of their products are organic, fair trade or kosher certified.

Watch my interview with Genaro Valdivia at Hi Europe in Amsterdam, here below.

At the end of the day I got to interview Marta Madueño D’Urso, who is export and sales manager at Nunatura, which is a trademark application of the company Peruvian Heritage SAC. Nunatura sells superfoods, superdrinks and dietary supplements all based on natural ingredients, such as Maca powder, Acai powder, Sacha Inchi powder, and so on. In their mission they try to operate in a way that is in harmony with the needs of all the participants in the supply chain and they follow bio-trade and fair trade principles.

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The most innovative product presented by Peruvian Heritage SAC was definitely the Shaman Energy Drink. A drink that gives long lasting energy throughout the day, based on natural ingredients and it really has a good taste! (verified by myself). This natural energy drink was created as an alternative to the traditional energy drink with caffeine, chemicals and sugar, which gives only a short energy boost. So the founders found four natural ingredients for the Shaman Energy drink, namely coca leaves and maca, from pre-Incan times, and Ginseng and Gingko Biloba, from the Far East.

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It was so nice to see for me how Peruvian companies are using their natural wealth, coming from the rich biodiversity of Peru, as a tool to not only gain profits, and create healthy products, but also living up to international standards of quality and sustainability, and contributing as far as possible to better livelihoods of small farmers and the preservation of nature.