Over the past decade, the effects of climate change have taken an increasing toll on the poorest and most remote communities in the Andes, many of whom live as high as 4000 metres above sea level. Winter after winter, they face the fraije - a phenomenon of intense cold never experienced by their ancestors.
The effects are devastating. When the freak cold last struck, fifty children died. Mothers and fathers were left numb with shock and grief. As many as 13,000 people suffered severe hypothermia, bronchitis and pneumonia. 10,000 alpacas perished, and many more were left exhausted and prone to disease. Potato crops were ravaged. At a stroke, poverty-stricken communities lost their children and their only means of survival.
The loss of their alpacas was devastating, as families depend almost entirely on their animals to live. These sweet-tempered creatures provide milk and cheese, full of essential nutrients. Their fibre, which is extremely insulating, is used for clothing and bedding, and sold to make a small income. Manure provides indispensable fuel to help people keep warm, and cook what little food they have.
Without alpacas, villagers have no means of transporting their only goods of alpaca fibre and potatoes for miles across mountainous terrain to the nearest market. Nor can they bring vital medicine and food back to the village for their sick, hungry children. So to lose the alpacas means the whole community faces crisis.
Practical Action has worked together with community members, old and young, to find three solutions to help people protect their alpacas against the next deadly winter. We urgently need your help to put these solutions into action now - before the severe cold returns and claims more lives.
A strong, durable shelter for the alpacas. New shelters can each house up to 50 alpacas - all year round. This means that in winter, the weak and young can be kept warm, and survive until the spring. In the warmer weather, the shelters can house pregnant alpacas - this is especially critical as miscarriages caused by the cold can mean the herds take many years to recover.
Nutritious food. When the cold hits, and the land dries up, what little vegetation there is merely blows away. Practical Action has worked with communities to teach them how to grow nutritous barley through hydroponics systems.
Barley grains fetched from the valley floor - with the help of the 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 of barley keep the alpacas healthy and strong when there is no other food available.
Veterinary skills. In one area, Practical Action has already helped to train 35 farmers from 15 communities to become 'Kamayoq', farmer to farmer trainers, who pass on knowledge on such things as hydroponics and basic veterinary skills. This is vital, as many farmers have little understanding of techniques to protect alpacas from disease.
This way of sharing knowledge is like throwing a stone into a pool: the ripples just go on and on. It's already brought much needed care to thousands of alpacas throughout Peru. And, if you could offer your support today, we can help more communities protect their animals and livelihoods, so they no longer have to scrape a life on the very edge of survival.
Alpaca shelter: for protection of baby alpacas and weak animals
In winter, up to 50 alpacas can be kept warm in each shelter, making sure they will survive until the spring. In the summer, the shelters are used for shearing the alpacas and sorting the wool. They are used to protect pregnant alpacas too - vital to the recovery of the herds as the cold causes many miscarriages.
Hydroponics systems to grow barley for alpacas
Hydroponics systems need just water and sunlight to grow food. In two weeks, barley grains grown in a trough of water can be milled, formed into blocks and enriched with syrup. These energy-packed blocks of barley keep the alpacas healthy and strong when they would otherwise starve.
Skills training for local farming leaders, the Kamayoq, with distribution of veterinary medicine kits
Many farmers desperately need training to prevent their alpacas falling victim to disease. In one area, Practical Action has already helped to train 35 Kamayoq from 15 communities in the basic skill of immunisation, and distributed the medicines needed to care for their livestock. By passing on their knowledge, thousands of Peruvian alpacas have been treated, but thousands more remain at risk.
"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."
-Emilio Chalco Valladares, Alpaca Farmer
video of the opening of an alpaca shelter [1 min 47 sec]