Posts Tagged With: Cusco Peru

Guinea pigs … not just for breakfast anymore.

If you’re going to eat guinea pigs (and in Peru, you’re going to) you’re going to have to raise guinea pigs. Which plenty of Peruvians do, in their kitchens, in their sheds, in a random, atomized way.

To an agro-ecologist like David Rocca, who coordinates Heifers “Good Living” IMAGEN (a local NGO) project in Puchyara, Peru, this represents a huge missed opportunity. To his mind, cuy equals the possibility of a commercial venture on a scale that can lift an entire community out of poverty. David is one of the unbelievably committed people working with local communities in partnership with Heifer, (like Cleida and Claudio from my previous Peru posts) who have the vision, plans, expectations, personal relationships with families, and follow-through to make real change happen. And it does take vision to look at a guinea pig and see the cash rolling in.

David Rocca & Sebastian Huillca

But here’s how it happens: When David started to work with Sebastian and Elena Huillca (and their three children), the family had 2 donkeys, 4 cows, 1 horse, a passel of guinea pigs in a rough shed, and a piece of land one hour ‘s walk away. The house was a mess and the yard was worse. In Heifer workshops, the family learned a few new habits that literally changed their life. They established a Healthy Homeand gave each child his/her own room.

Back to the bio-garden!

They built a shed for their animals, collected the manure that was now in one handy place, and with the help of some industrious Heifer worms, used that compost to fertilize their new bio-garden where they grow enough vegetables to eat and to sell in the local market.

The family planted fruit trees.  They learned how to use local clay to plaster (and beautifully decorate) their house, instead of buying expensive materials they couldn’t afford. And in the guinea pig shed, they covered the walls in clay (with happy drawings), built compartments to separate males, females and babies, grew better forage to feed them, and began keeping breeding records to control reproduction and improve genetics.

What a happy guinea pig house!

The Huillcas followed David’s teachings and put ashes in the entrance of the house to kill bacteria, used meds to treat sick animals, and bred the gift of new Heifer guinea pigs with the local stock to double the weight of their piggies. One year later, they’ve both doubled the number of their pigs, and the price they get per cuy at market. (And both their daughters are attending college!)

3 pregnancies a year, that's fertility!

David is such an ardent believer in the potential of guinea pigs, he contends that profits will begin to repay Heifer’s investment in 2-3 months (including passing on the gift). And his math works. Guinea pigs are ridiculously fertile; females can have 3 pregnancies a year, and the better the feed, the quicker the baby comes. What David has taught his farmers is that if they take care of their guinea pigs— guinea pigs will pay off– big time– for the whole family.

Cuy is served in almost every restaurant in Peru, from sidewalk cafes to the swankiest eateries, so the demand is virtually unlimited. Its meat is high protein, low cholesterol and supposedly truly delicious (that’s right, I wimped out).

A gentle man, Felipe Ayachu.

And unlike bigger animals that demand grazing and herding, guinea pigs can be raised on small plots of land, and handled by older beneficiaries like Felipe Ayachu, who is trying to keep his farm running despite an illness, with only his devoted daughter to help him.

David’s also inspired enthusiastic spark-plugs like Dolores Delgado – whose sterling example of taking the guinea pig ball and running with it has been so inspiring, she’s moved her community’s Heifer involvement from 3 families to 35 (out of 40!)… built a whole new guinea pig barn and organic garden, and doubled the price of the town’s pigs! It’s what she promised Heifer President Pierre Ferrari she would do when he visited Puchyara last year, a meeting she remembered with overflowing tears and copious hugging.

Dolores' experimental, hydroponic, awesome new GP house!

Beautiful Dolores & daughter.

In fact, it’s the example of Heifer beneficiaries like Dolores, Felipe, and Sebastian who start showing up with big, fat guinea pigs for sale, their homes shining with fresh clean designs, and their gardens bursting with produce, that catches neighbors’ attention and spurs participation in the project. These early adopters have become Heifer/IMAGEN promoters, their communities have organized, and now David has the success stories and community backing to intercede with municipal authorities to continue to invest in the materials, seeds and structures that will make Puchyara Pigs the toast of nearby Cusco.

Writing a whole new future for families in Puchyara...

A succulent cuy may never pass my lips, but I predict that before long, David’s dream will be a yummy roasted reality.

Heifer's Carlitos loving his cuy.

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Heifer International, Peru, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

A Fiber Primer for Yarnheads.

Although I used to embroider and do crewelwork in a past life, I have never been known to Stitch without Bitching, and nobody has ever accused me of having any real talent in fiber handicrafts. However, I do know art when I see it, and the day I spent with Heifer at Ocongate, Peru in the presence of the Six Stars of Bacchanta weavers was nothing short of magical (quite possibly because there was a lot of shopping involved).

The Six Stars setting in the Ausangate Andean Range... not bad, right?

This Heifer/AEDES project is part of Heifer’s Cusco umbrella project to help 4,333 families in 22 Highlands communities close the value chain of breeding alpacas: raising, shearing, spinning, and weaving the precious fiber… then going all the way to the final step of producing knit goods that will maximize their income. After all, when the Highland families do all the hard work of producing the fiber, wouldn’t it be great if they got the major income that comes from making stuff from that fiber??

Master weaver Francisco

To that end, Heifer and its local NGO partner AEDES are helping the 120-member Six Stars organization, with the super-charismatic Francisco at the helm, to learn advanced methods to clean, dye, categorize, create and execute uniformly beautiful designs that can then be sold in local and regional markets (like in nearby, tourist-laden Cusco) at a highly profitable price point.

The women demonstrated “phusca” (Quechua for spinning), which the Highlands women do incessantly, walking around with balls of alpaca fluff that they relentlessly twist and refine to convert fleece into thread.

There are 31 different categorizations of alpaca fiber, from thickest to most desirable thinnest (31) and with Heifer trainings, Six Stars participants have become adept at both breeding their animals to produce fibers of a higher category, and learning to knit with these super-fine fibers.

Up close & personal with an alpaca's fleece --unbelievably thick & luscious!

Butterscotch beauty

Natural alpaca fiber in all hues, particularly blacks and browns, are hugely in vogue –particularly the darker colors (and Heifer is providing those alpacas for breeding). But for the sheep’s wool that is used in many other handicrafts, natural dyes are all the rage. Victoria showed us the flowers and herbs that produce the yellows, purples and blues for their wool weavings, as well as the scales from insects who live in cactus (!!) and produce a rich,vibrant red.

Alpaca fieltros..cute!

Felting (rolling tight little balls made from the short neck hairs of the hirsute alpaca) makes use of every bit of the precious fiber, and is used in necklaces, earrings and bracelets with a modern whimsical twist. But one of Francisco’s favorite claims is that Six Stars is bringing back ancient and forgotten Incan designs, with its plethora of birds, spiders, chicanas (the Incan cross) and condors that revere the past.

In the future, however, it’s all about these trainings empowering the Highlands people to stand up for their own food sovereignty, land security, and the right to the profits from their incredible hard work. One of the oddities of Peruvian commerce is that every organization needs to be legally registered with the government in order to be recognized, enabled to work with other organizations, and to sell its wares. Heifer has helped Six Stars to register (a lengthy and expensive process) so now the group can work with the Ministry of Tourism, export its beautiful fibers, and participate in the trade economy.

Softer than soft ...super-premium baby alpaca fur is the most valuable of all.

What can I say but … coming soon, to a store near you!

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Heifer International, Peru, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

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