The Camelid Solution
IFAD Asset Request Portlet
The Camelid Solution02 March 2016
Guillermo Vila Melo, Agronomist and founding member of the Association of Camelid of Argentina (ACA)
As Ms Samii said, I shall be introducing you to my very first love, llamas and alpacas. Llamas on your right-hand side and alpacas on your left. They are animals who are raised in the high Andes, in the countries of Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Chile in South America. These animals live from 3,500 to 5,000 metres above sea level and those llamas and alpacas can produce two differentiated products: the best textile fibres in alpacas and meat, and transportation in llamas but the llamas on top also provide very excellent meat. They weigh from 60-200 kilos, they can live at very temperatures, they are accustomed to very dry weather. This is the environment where the llamas live, the very high mountains, eternal snows, rivers, prairies, these are desert areas and they are very dry or moist areas and the rainfall takes place in January, February and March, about 400 millimetres depending on the area and they also live at the very low temperatures. The picture that you see now was taken this week in Apolobamba in the north of Bolivia at about 5,000 metres in altitude and it has been snowing for five days and as soon as the snow falls the grassland appears again, but it was necessary however during the snowfall to try and shovel away snow so that they could feed. But if the snowfall continues the situation will continue until August/September and one has to wait but still provide them with forage and get them through until November.
This livestock production at very high altitudes is focused on animals that were domesticated 7,000 years ago. They stem from the vicuñas and the animals that migrated through Panama, through the straits and had come originally from Asia. The producers, the livestock breeders are Andean, 150,000 families live on them, in the five Andean countries I mentioned. These livestock producers stock animals for protein, their fibres were used for clothing and with the conquest of the Americas the new livestock species, these animals migrated to higher altitudes: 5 million head live in these zones and other countries use the genetic resources, Canada, New Zealand, the United States imported animals and are now producing these species.
One of the major problems that we come across in these areas is migration. The exodus of young people. There are no chances for jobs, no chances to improve their lot. There are no communications, no roads. These young people who normally migrate to large cities, such as Lima, Peru, Bolivia, Huacho and Puno in Peru, Abra Pampa and…. in Argentina, many of these young people migrate also to other forms of life, other harvests, other crops, or go into the oil producing sector. The so-called extraterritorial jobs where they do not even appear. Those who stay back are just elderly people or very, very young children.
My grandfather was Swiss of origin and he lived in the highlands of Argentina and until I was 27 I had never seen an alpaca or llama in the fields. I just knew about them and saw them in the zoo, but our grandfather took us mountain climbing in the summer and that is when I started loving the mountains, yet I had never seen close up a llama or an alpaca. In l989 I was very much struck, I became very curious because I was interested in horses. There were so many different forms that I was interested in cattle, their digestive system, or goats and sheep for their ability climb and produce. By and by I came to know this other animal as well and decided to focus on it and study it. There were so many young people dealing with other more common areas, equines, bovines, but I was really interested in dealing with something that was totally new, something that I found fascinating in an environment that I found enchanting and I wanted to start a new activity. At the time there was really no chance to get information, no chance to come to know specialists but I started to address this problem. My father who has now passed away, said Guillermo, do not get involved with these animals. Do something serious. Get a serious job but still I started dedicating myself to production, but before that I thought that we needed to market the raw material and to have all the raw materials marketable, I had to focus on the final product as well so I turned myself, I would say, into an expert of the textile chain, the meat processing chain, hides and skin production and I went into trials and tests to get all sorts of fabrics, all sorts of hides that were suitable for clothing and shoes.
There were two points that alerted me, one was that a lot of young people were already involved in this activity. I was not alone, and secondly, I realized that there was no weak chain in processing, in marketing, but rather there was another problem and it was at the production level. Therefore, I realized that there were many skills for the young people in all these different areas of training and marketing and I also realized that not many people wanted to stay back in the rural areas and work with producers. Another point was that we wanted good raw materials. We always were focused on market demand and we were selling what we had and not what was required by the market, this entailed the fact that new forms of projects were designed and finally I was able to develop a project that I called the Camelid Community. Its purposes were two and they were very important. Firstly, I realized that there was really not very much planning at the farm level. There was no efficient and sustainable use of the few resources these farms had so we started working with producers, in total 20, we worked with them for two years and we learned, all of us, where the most important places were, where the farms were, what they were like and it was fascinating to see how they could improve their knowledge. This knowledge was proposed generally to the group and the group got together to try and solve their problems at the farm level. Another pillar for this project was that people needed good information. For this purpose they needed to go out and seek this good information; and finally they were introduced to the world of the internet and this helped them make good decisions.
Another thing we noticed and realized was that they needed to become familiar with other realities and thanks to internet and jointly with that, we took them to fairs, to come to know other markets to see how fibres were handled and what the end of their raw material was. We even took them to an international congress in a neighbouring country and this led to an excellent experience, excellent communication with producers. I always thought that as an expert, as a professional, as a technician, I should never impose my thinking, or my ideas, on producers. What we needed to do was to have the knowledge of technicians, technical know-how, new methodologies, be compatible and be able to be listened to and dovetail with the available knowledge of the people in the field because they are the ones who know what works with the new methodology to forge ahead. I thought the project was good. I thought it left its footprint, it left its knowledge. It was very short lived but we knew it had a future. I was left with a very important idea and it is that more needed to be done. Not only to bring some order into the farm, not only to make the resources sustainable but really study what ways and means we had to recover the soil, to achieve better production, better use of resources. In the very last years this led me to carry out research and we are now pooling together new ideas, new information and this not only to have information but to have new grazing systems, such as the ones provided by the Saber Institute in the United States. They have a holistic approach to rangelands, grazing and they also look at the shape of the farms and the better use of soils, better use of resources. Use the energy of the soil so that this can lead to forage, dollars, use at the end of the chain.
Here, there is a design that was really studied by an Australian in the fifties and he saw that there is a very important line where one can capture water and go all the way until the preservation of wood, and thanks to the Food Soil Organization and the work of Dr Elaine Ingham, we are focusing on the best nutrition of soils with the micro-organism that are endogenous in the area. This was done in the south with sheep and it has provided very good results. This is what I am doing now. I am still very much interested in developing assistance production into efficient and sustainable production and have a better environment in gender income for the people.