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Value-adding to peri-urban dairy farming in Latin America

A milk delivery by one of the cooperative's members (CIP)
A milk delivery by one of the cooperative's members

Straddling the border of Peru and Bolivia, the Altiplano - a high-altitude plain at 4000m above sea level - is one of the poorest regions in the world. At such high altitudes, the environment is unforgiving: drought, floods and extreme cold are common. The region supports six million people, who mostly depend on agriculture. Potato is the staple but crop failure is a regular occurrence and many families live in extreme poverty. In March this year, unexpected frost destroyed much of this year's potato crop.

However, for some Altiplano farming families living close to urban centres, nutritional and income stability is not completely unattainable. Milk production is growing in importance in the region and a pilot project, under the ALTAGRO initiative (see side box) of the International Potato Center (CIP) and its partners, has created a market for local milk to be made into cheese in several large towns.

The project supports research from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) that states that dairy production presents an opportunity for smallholder households in developing countries to achieve income stability and better health, if the farmers can become integrated into growing markets. And particularly for poor households in the Altiplano region, it is known that even small amounts of nutrient-rich dairy foods can protect against protein and micronutrient deficiency in the most vulnerable groups - malnourished children and women in their child-bearing years.

Support for small-scale dairy products

Paul Stapleton, CIP's Head of Communications, says the higher earnings that result from the cheese-making initiative are allowing farmers to take out loans to buy more cows, or build enclosures for milking the cows when it is raining and to shelter the cows during cold nights. "This conserves the animals' energy, raises their productivity and protects them from disease," notes Stapleton. He adds "Most households in the area earn around $1 per day. With this initiative, dairy producers have increased their income by over double, with some now earning up to $850 per year."

The cheeses are molded into a characteristic pattern to assist marketing (CIP)
The cheeses are molded into a characteristic pattern to assist marketing

The ALTAGRO project, financed by the Canadian government, has supported the construction of two small dairies in Atuncolla-Illpa, a Peruvian town with a population of 10,000 people. A training plant at the experimental station of INIA (Peru's National Agricultural Research Institute) has also been set up, which is providing technical assistance to farmers and processors in how to transport the milk and process it into cheese. CIP is transfering research technologies to the project, in partnership with a Peruvian NGO, CIRNMA (Centro de Investigación de Recursos Naturales y Media Ambiente), which administers the micro-financing for purchasing cows and building the dairies.

Other cheese-making plants have been established in the similar-sized towns of Mañazo and Cari Cari, and several new dairies are being built in Bolivia this year. Each dairy is an adobe (sun-dried clay) building with two to three rooms and concrete floors. Simple aluminum vats are used to ferment the cheese and mould the curds into a distinctive pattern. The cheese is sold fresh, without maturing and is ready in a few days.

Nine litres of milk are needed to make 1.3 kg of cheese and around 30 cheeses are made daily at each dairy, which sell for 8.50 soles (about US$3.00) at the factory door, at local markets and in nearby cities, such as Juliaca and Puno. Each dairy processes milk from about 25 farmers and a further 400 permanent jobs have been created for cheese-making, transporting and selling the cheese.

Drying out the day's production (CIP)
Drying out the day's production

However, Stapleton says that "Although the creation of these jobs has been important, it is the creation of a reliable new market that the people control which is key. They no longer have to sell their milk for low prices to middle men." Robert Valdivia, President of CIRNMA, says the cheese-making initiative is part of a "slow, gradual process of growth and improvement" on the Altiplano. Fabian Escalante, a cheese-maker in the town Illpa agrees; "This dairy keeps the money local. It has created work locally - it is 'un fuente de trabajo' (fountain of work). We are not getting rich, but it is an extra income for us."

Encouragingly, Stapleton reports, "The initiative is having a ripple effect, as other farmers see how well it is working and request training and instruction in how to start a similar initiative."

Written by: Treena Hein

Date published: July 2007


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