Today marked a new chapter in our research with our first official visit to the campo (the countryside). Andean Naturals/Jacha Inti’s agronomist, Yeris Peric was kind enough to take us along to visit one of the producer associations that they work with. The group is called APQC which stands for Asociación de Productores de Quniua y Camélidos or Association of Quinoa and Camelid Producers is a group of about 200 individuals living in the Municipality called Pampa Aullagas, in southern Oruro. In the last few years, this group has attained its’ organic certification status, allowing them to sell their quinoa to Andean Naturals. It was apparent that they really take pride in their organic status and understand the value that it gives to the land as well as the premium price they receive. The president of the association told us that he is committed to farming sustainably while constantly working towards increasing the quality of their product.
Today, Peric had actually organized a workshop for the producers with guest speaker Tito Medrano from Fairtrade International. The subject of the workshop was how to achieve fairtrade certification status, and while it was not directly related to our venture, it was the perfect opportunity for us to make contact in person with both llama and quinoa farmers for the first time. It was also an important opportunity for us to begin to understand the geography of this region we have been studying so long and get a glimpse into what these individuals’ lives are like. The drive from Oruro to the town of Pampa Aullagas was about 3 hours and passed through the vast, open high plains that is known as the Altiplano. The only plants growing in this area are a few varieties of alfalfa and barely (mostly used for livestock feed), potatoes and of course quinoa. We saw many llamas but also noted that there were some cattle and sheep in the area as well.
At the end of the workshop, we did get a chance to interview a few of the association members and got somewhat varied responses regarding their use and need for organic inputs. Most of the individuals in APQC cultivate about 10 hectares of land but also have between 50 – 100 llamas of their own. They do use their llamas’ manure to fertilize their quinoa fields as well as the pastoral land used for llama grazing. Most of these farmers didn’t think they would have any manure left to spare, even if someone offered to buy it. Others mentioned that they were already buying llama and sheep manure, and when asked if they’d be willing to pay more for a different, but more effective organic fertilizer, some said yes while others were skeptical about using anything other than pure llama manure. When asked about their quinoa yields a few said they were steady while others admitted they were declining.