By Jane Eason
PERU?S mountainous landscape is a breathtaking experience for thousands of visitors every year, but it has proved costly for isolated communities across the country.
More than 50 per cent of the population in Peru survive on less than £1 dollar a day, surviving by growing and selling food. Alpacas are vital to their way of life as they are used for their milk, wool and for transporting goods to market.
Recent cold weather has seen disaster strike as thousands of alpacas could not survive the freezing temperatures, having devastating effects on communities leaving them facing a crisis.
Changing lives: Small is beautiful
However, international development charity Practical Action has been working with Peruvian communities for a number of years and has come up with innovative new ways for people to look after their alpacas and avoid disaster before it strikes.
Practical Action was introduced by radical economist, philosopher and author of ?Small is Beautiful?, Dr. E.F Schumacher more than 40 years ago. Schumacher strongly believed in using small scale, low cost and appropriate ideas to help people to help themselves.
The UK-based charity has more than 40 years? experience of working towards reducing poverty worldwide; its ethos is the right idea ? however small ? can change lives, create job and improve health and livelihoods. The tools to reduce poverty may be simple or sophisticated, but to provide long-term, practical answers they must be firmly in the hands of local people.
Peru has seen temperatures plunge in recent years; during winters communities face the fraije ? a new phenomenon of intense cold ? never before seen in the country. The last time it hit, more than 50 children died, 13,000 people suffered hypothermia and more than10, 000 alpacas perished.
Many communities rely on their alpacas for vital wool and milk, but harsh winters have led to thousands of their animals dying and crops failing. This led to lifelines for many Peruvian communities being severed, as their means of transporting goods and earning a living disappeared.
The loss of the alpacas had a devastating effect on communities as the animals provide nutrient packed milk and cheese, while their insulating fibre is used for clothes and bedding which provides an invaluable income. Alpaca manure is also essential as the manure provides fuel to help keep people warm and also as biofuel for cooking.
The only way to transport the little goods they had was to trek for miles across mountainous terrain to the nearest market. It also became harder and harder to get vital medicines and food into villages, which meant prices soared making survival even more precarious.
Sadly, isolated villages and rural communities are often forgotten about, receiving little or no government help making recovery more and more difficult.
Alpacas are part and parcel of Peru?s traditional way of life and looked upon as an essential part of community life, therefore Practical Action?s project work is designed to uphold these traditions, while improving ways alpacas are looked after and nurtured.
A training scheme for farmers ? known as Kamayoqs ? is now up and running. Training on how to care for their animals, irrigation, general health, avoiding landslides and how to build shelters are just some of the issues covered. The Kamayoqs then have revision classes every six months to look at any new issues which may have arisen and also to share information within and between communities. To date, more than 160 farmers have been trained.
One of the most important aspects of this training is improving self confidence and trust within communities. Gregorio Flores Road told Practical Action: ?I have learnt so much more which I can share with my friends and neighbours. My income has risen and I can provide a much better standard of living for my family. I breed for wool and at the moment I am trying to classify them by colour and hair length so I can produce the best possible breed.?
The Kamayoqs were also shown how to administer medicine and taught how to increase milk to increase the production of yoghurt and cheese.
To protect the alpacas - particularly the young and weak - from the extremely cold weather, Practical Action has designed a simple shelter made from local materials. The shelters can each house up to 50 alpacas which are not only protected from the harsh winds and cold, but also generate their own warmth through standing together. In the summer, the shelters are used for shearing the alpacas and sorting the wool. They are also used to protect pregnant alpacas, which often miscarry in the cold.
Once the cold weather hits the country, one of the effects is the land dries up and what little vegetation actually blows away. Practical Action has worked with communities to enable people to grow nutritious barley through hydroponics systems.
Barley grains fetched from the valley floor ? with the help of healthier alpacas ? are grown in a trough of water the barley is milled, enriched with syrup and formed into blocks. Needing only sunlight and water, the whole process takes just two weeks. These high energy blocks keep the alpacas healthy and strong when no other food is available.
Many farmers told Practical Action they needed more training in how to prevent their alpacas falling victim to disease, while understanding how to spot the signs. As a result of this, Practical Action held additional workshops to look at how farmers could improve their knowledge of basic immunisation skills; in addition the charity distributed the medicine needed to care for their livestock.
Emilio Chalco Valladares, Alpaca Farmer said: ?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 ? disease spreads quickly. Now we save much time because we have the knowledge ourselves and diseases don?t spread. Animals don?t die any more.?
The farmers who have been trained are now confident enough to share their knowledge to enable other community members to become Kamayoqs. This farmer-to-farmer training means knowledge of hydroponics ? growing barley grains in small amounts of water ? and basic veterinary skills is passed on. This is vital, as many farmers have little understanding of techniques to protect alpacas from disease.
Practical action has recently being working with women from the communities to ensure they receive as much training as possible, enabling them to care for the animals and improve their skill set.
As well as working in the field, Practical Action has also been working with an alpaca farm on its doorstep, based in Warwickshire to raise the profile of these important animals. Toft Alpacas, at Toft Manor in Dunchurch, has a herd of over 170 alpacas and is now supporting the charity by selling Practical Action cards and other gifts.
Practical Action not only realises the importance of alpacas to Peruvian communities, but also the social impacts of working together. Sharing information and helping others to learn is vital if harsh winters are no longer to be feared by remote communities across the country. The charity has proved that sharing knowledge through programmes and workshops has a ripple effect; leading to more and more people becoming empowered through learning and practical help.
Supporting communities all year round
As well as vital project work to help support communities in Peru, Practical Action also sells ?Practical Presents? throughout the year. This imitative includes alpaca gifts ranging from alpacas, veterinary kits, alpaca food and shelters.
Rather than buying friends, family and loved ones gift for birthdays, next month?s Valentine?s Day, Mother?s Day or Father?s Day, which could end up in the back of the cupboard, Practical Action is encouraging people to take a look at its gift brochure. Practical Present?s have a major impact on helping to improve the lives of some of the world?s poor. All alpaca gifts come with a free alpaca finger puppet, made out of the animal?s wool.
As Justine Williams, Practical Action?s Head of Public Fundraising, said: ?Novelty socks can?t fight poverty but buying a Practical Presents can. It really is an ideal way to buy for friends and family while making a real difference to a poor community.?
The brand new ?Practical Presents? catalogue and website www.practicalpresents.org is packed with innovative gifts which aim to benefit people in the developing world. Prices start from under £10. Gifts can also be purchased over the phone, 0845 108 3057.
Other gifts include ducks for families in Bangladesh to provide eggs and a livelihood through breeding, goats in Africa to produce milk for HIV/AIDS orphans and fuel efficient stoves for Sudan refugees.
As well as a special gift card to personalise the present, shoppers will also receive photographs and details of the Practical Presents gift idea they are interested in.
For more information about Practical Action?s invaluable work or to make a donation, please telephone 01926 634400. Alternatively visit: www.practicalaction.org