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Building capacity for change in Peru's alpaca sector

Worldwide demand for higher quality fibre has threatened the livelihoods of alpaca keepers. (WRENmedia)
Worldwide demand for higher quality fibre has threatened the livelihoods of alpaca keepers.

Far above the clouds, the Peruvian Andes may seem far removed from the rest of the world but even here the lives of rural people are affected by global markets. At the turn of the millennium, worldwide demand for higher quality fibre was threatening the livelihoods of the alpaqueros, the traditional alpaca herders of the Altiplano. But within the last few years, a process of policy and institutional change has seen the development of a national camelid strategy, which provides a vision for further development of the sector, not only in Peru but across the region.

By 2002, declining genetic quality of its national herds and a value chain dominated by intermediaries who bought fibre only by weight, providing no incentive for producers to improve fibre quality, had brought Peru's alpaca industry to a crisis. Furthermore, alpaqueros were largely ignored by government, with national agricultural policy focusing on the more productive lowland, coastal systems. Despite the previously prized qualities of "baby" alpaca fibre, used in the production of high-quality, luxurious clothing, international markets were favouring even finer and lighter fibres, including mohair and cashmere. Moreover, new alpaca producers in Australia and New Zealand, with improved technologies and processing standards, had further reduced Peru's market share.

New alliances for new challenges

Fortunately, political change was in the air. In collaboration with CONDESAN*, a regional research and development consortium, work conducted by the Pro-Poor Policy Livestock Initiative (PPLPI) of FAO helped to provide greater understanding of the importance of livestock to the livelihoods of poor Andeans as well as to the wider national economy. The outcome of building partnerships and PPLPI's involvement in various political and development discussions helped stimulate a renewed interest in agricultural development, and in particular the camelid sector, in the highlands.

Declining genetic quality of alpacas has also affected fibre quality. (WRENmedia)
Declining genetic quality of alpacas has also affected fibre quality.

Building on this interest allowed PPLPI to bring together potential partners from across the alpaca sector, including producers, processors and government organisations with a goal of developing a national strategy for a stronger, more equitable fibre sector. Inevitably, processors and producers were initially distrustful of each other but says Judith Kuan, co-ordinator for the PPLPI approach, "The key factor in getting different actors around the table was the involvement of champions for each group. The involvement of these leaders was essential in enabling us to achieve common goals."

Shaping the strategy

Whilst the regional consultations and workshops were convened by CONACS*, the Ministry of Agriculture's camelid department, PPLPI was able to provide support as a neutral partner and to provide evidence drawn from its studies in the region to facilitate and help direct discussions. For the first time, farmers' viewpoints were taken seriously and they could feel a vital part of the shaping of the strategy and the policies.

The culmination of the process was the formulation of the first National Camelid Development Strategy for Peru, which was adopted as official government policy in October 2006. At the same time, CONALPACA* - the umbrella organisation of SPAR, CONACS and others - was recognised as the consultative body responsible for supporting development in the alpaca sector and for making its fibre a "flagship product" for Peru.

With the development of a national alpaca strategy for Peru, the alpaqueros have realised that by coming together, they have a greater voice. Other partners have also acknowledged the benefits of collaboration, exchanging experience and knowledge and for developing a shared vision. "The most important aspect was to get used to collaborating together. We gained from going through the process, discussing and sharing visions in a common way," emphasises Daniel Arestegui, previously of CONACS.

Progress and setbacks

With a new camelid strategy for Peru, farmers now have a greater say in the alpaca sector (WRENmedia)
With a new camelid strategy for Peru, farmers now have a greater say in the alpaca sector

Despite these achievements, recent years have not been plain sailing: changes in the Ministry of Agriculture have led to the demise of CONACS, although CONALPACA continues to function. And the global recession has led to a reduction in markets for alpaca fibre. As a result, the price for fibre is currently so low that many producers have refused to sell their fibre, even resorting to killing animals for meat. However, an encouraging sign of support from the new government has been the introduction of a credit fund for the camelid sector, to help bridge the current crisis.

Setbacks aside, the national camelid strategy remains official policy and, perhaps most importantly, the capacity of stakeholders within the sector has increased. Once better fibre prices return, the policy process has put in place a number of positive changes that pave the way for further impact: in the town of Macusani, for example, an alpaca breeding centre has been established with the support of Oxfam UK, in collaboration with SPAR, with the aim of improving fibre quality.

Beyond its borders, the national strategy of Peru and policy change process continues to inform camelid policy strategy and sector development plans in other Andean countries. And as Kuan points out, the most important aspect of this process is that policy change "is an approach and not a recipe." In other words, each situation is unique but bringing people together to develop a shared vision is the start of a process which can bring benefits across the value chain.

*CONDESAN - El Consorcio para el Desarrollo Sostenible de la Ecorregión Andina
*CONACS - Consejo Nacional de Camélidos Sudamericanos
*CONALPACA - Comisión Nacional de la Alpaca

With contributions from: Jeroen Dijkman, PPLPI and Judith Kuan

Date published: May 2009


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