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Reviving an ancient tradition: the Kamayoq in Peru

Farmers in the high Andes of Peru are among the poorest in the country (WRENmedia)
Farmers in the high Andes of Peru are among the poorest in the country

High in the Peruvian Andes, resource-poor farmers struggle against physical isolation, inadequate access to resources and adverse climatic conditions, which may bring drought, floods and frost within one growing season. Dependent entirely on livestock and potatoes for their livelihoods and staple diet, these indigenous people are amongst the poorest and most vulnerable in Peru.

As the number of extension advisors has fallen during recent years, the skills required to respond to the challenges of farming in the Andes have been beyond the means of the Peruvian Department of Agriculture. To anticipate and address farmers' veterinary and agricultural needs, Practical Action has helped revive an ancient tradition of farmer-to-farmer extension.

An alternative approach to extension

Known as the Kamayoq system, the alternative approach involves training selected farmers who return to their communities to provide agricultural advice and services, particularly focusing on animal husbandry (alpaca herding) and irrigation techniques. The word "Kamayoq" dates from the Inca Empire when the Kamayoq were respected people, able to predict the climate and provide advice on dates for cropping and other agricultural activities. Food or land was given as a reward for their services.

For over ten years, a Kamayoq school established in Sicuani in Canchis province, south of Cusco, has provided community leaders with an eight month course of weekly training sessions. So far over 200 Kamayoqs have graduated from the school (around 20-25 are trained each year), with many returning for top-up training. The objective of the school is not, however, to promote particular technologies or advice but to encourage the Kamayoq to work with farmers to generate their own innovative solutions, including experimenting with traditional remedies, in responding to their agricultural and veterinary needs.

A natural remedy for livestock

After training, Kamayoqs return to their communities to give advice and technical assistance to farmers (Practical Action)
After training, Kamayoqs return to their communities to give advice and technical assistance to farmers
Practical Action

Sheep liver fluke (Fasciola hepatica) for example, is a major parasitic disease affecting sheep, cattle and camelids in the Andean valleys. While the disease rarely kills livestock, infected animals lose weight, produce lower milk yields, and many die from secondary infections. A natural remedy, first discovered by farmer and Kamayoq Apolinar Tayro, has now been refined and tested in collaboration with other villagers and local researchers. Using a blend of local herbs, the medicine contains a number of active ingredients proved to have a positive effect on diseased animals including tarwi.

Kamayoqs teach farmers how to chop and boil the plants, prepare the treatment and administer it to their animals. Over 3,000 families now use the natural medicine on around 30,000 cattle and 7,000 sheep, with a remedy for the disease in alpacas also being investigated. The herbal treatment is one-quarter of the price of conventional medicine. Emilio Chalco Valladares, an alpaca farmer, reports enthusiastically on the benefits of being able to get advice and use local herbal medicines: "Previously when an animal was sick, taking it to the town might take a day at least. While we were away more animals might become sick. Now we save much time and our animals no longer die because we have the knowledge ourselves."

Developing new approaches and sustaining business

As a result of working alongside the Kamayoq, farmers are learning to recognise the symptoms of liver fluke disease and, with the increased quantities of milk produced by healthier animals, have started making yoghurt and cheese. Kamayoqs have also helped to develop natural treatments for a fungal disease of maize (corn smut) and downy mildew in onions. With support from the Kamayoqs, farmers are increasingly being encouraged to move beyond subsistence production of crops, such as maize, beans and potato, to grow higher value vegetables for sale, including onions and carrots.

Kamayoqs are now searching for an affordable remedy for liver flukes in alpacas (WRENmedia)
Kamayoqs are now searching for an affordable remedy for liver flukes in alpacas

Like their predecessors, the Kamayoq are paid for their services in cash or in kind, but an important aspect of the training and the services provided is the trust established with the communities. Creating demand and a market for their technical advisory services is key to sustaining the Kamayoqs' business. To keep up-to-date with new ideas and techniques, Kamayoqs are offered refresher training as well as access to videos and radio programmes.

As a direct result of the advice provided by Kamayoqs, Practical Action estimates that farmers' incomes have increased by around 15 per cent. Recruiting more women to provide a broader gender balance has proved a challenge as poor acceptance of women providing advice within the communities can sometimes be a constraint. Although there are thousands of resource-poor farmers in Peru that remain without access to technical advice and inputs, at least 5,000 Andean families now regularly receive advice and technical assistance from the Kamayoqs. Other institutes and organisations, including the National Service for Animal Health, are now exploring using a similar model of extension.

With contributions from: Treena Hein

Date published: July 2008


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