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Using Radio to Improve Local Responses to Climate Variability: The Case of Alpaca Farmers in the Peruvian Andes (CAMELTEC project)

Submitted by Anneli Sundin 11th January 2015 9:52

Alpaca Farmer with Radio. Credits: Yezelia Caceres Cabana.

The Climate Change, Innovation and ICTs project is an initiative led by the Centre for Development Informatics (CDI) of the University of Manchester, UK, with funding support from Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

Further information about the project and related resources can be found at: http://www.niccd.org 

Initiative overview

Livelihoods in high mountain areas are precarious at the best of times, and made more so by climate vulnerability. This case study focuses on radio's contribution to sustainable mountain livelihoods in the Peruvian Andes. 

Peru has the largest number of South American camelids (the animal group that includes llama, alpaca, vicuna and guanaco) in the world, with more than 5 million of the four species of which 3.6 million are alpaca; more than 85 per cent of the world's total (Fernandez et al 2008). Camelid rearing takes place all along the Andes at altitudes of 3,500­5,000m, where other forms of agriculture are uneconomic. It is therefore key to the economic survival of those living high in the mountains, supporting more than 65,000 families in Andean Peru alone. 

Alongside a more general warming that is slowly extending the range of arable land, and squeezing that available for alpaca farming, the more immediate problem for all farmers has been an increase in climate variability. In particular, there have been a set of unexpected cold snaps, with heavy snowfall, which have caused serious problems. These include water scarcity leading to a reduction in available pasture, and an increased death rate particularly of pregnant (up to 20 per cent dying) and young (more than 30 per cent dying) alpaca. With alpaca farming being the main income source, this loss of animals condemns further those who are already living in conditions of severe poverty.

Underlying these problems was a lack of adaptive capacity among the farmers; capacity that would enable them to take short­ term actions to cope with sudden climate variations, and longer­ term actions to improve the income they could derive from alpaca farming. To address this, the CAMELTEC project was initiated by Peruvian NGO Desco1 with the financial support of Oxfam GB; running from 2008 to 2010. It was focused on the main alpaca­producing regions of Puno and Arequipa; most particularly on 31 communities of 1,725 families. 

Application Description

A key component of the CAMELTEC project was broadcast of the radio show Amanecer Alpaquero (Alpaca Farmer's Daybreak) starting in May 2008 and running until March 2010. The scheme bought radio time from two local stations2 and produced a 20 minute show once a week. The programme could be received not only in the two selected districts of Puno and Arequipa but also in the neighbouring department of Cusco and in nearby areas in Bolivia. 

Objectives/Purpose for ICT Usage

Overall, the CAMELTEC project aimed to use radio and other means to achieve three goals:

  • Strengthen local organisations such as farmer co­operatives to enable the introduction of sustainable (including climate­sustainable) livestock practices

  • Improve the quality and quantity of alpaca wool being produced, through good husbandry and reproductive management practices

  • Improve income through changes to wool output and through better market access

Thus, some radio broadcasts had a specific aim of helping farmers cope with friaje through better water conservation, improved fodder growth and storage, construction of barns and sheds and corrals (see Figure 1 above), better animal husbandry and treatment of disease. But alongside this, CAMELTEC had much wider aims that sought to address the totality of the farmers' fragile livelihoods. This included working with officials of the farmer co­operatives and with staff in local government, and the training of selected (educated) individuals from within the communities with skills they could share with neighbouring farmers. 

Evaluation: Failure or Success

The radio broadcasts can be seen to have contributed to a number of positive outcomes. As noted, programmes related to disease prevention and control, including protection of babies, and improved calving techniques have contributed to a significant decline in herd mortality rates. Those focusing on construction of shelters, water and fodder conservation, and emergency feed and treatment have done the same specifically for friaje. Programmes have encouraged a more systematic approach to breeding, the utilisation of farming co­operatives for marketing of alpaca wool, and a more commercial approach to farming; all of which have helped to either maintain or raise income levels.

The reaction to the radio broadcasts has been overwhelmingly positive among the target audience as evidenced in a feedback survey undertaken by Desco in 2010 showing more than 80 per cent of respondents said they regularly tuned in to the show.

The following testimonies illustrate the feeling from the target audience towards the broadcasts:
''The radio show seems very nice. I listen to it every Saturday and I greatly appreciate the work of Desco. I think it has worked very well for us, as we live in the countryside dealing with the cold, the hail and the snow, grazing our herds. Our alpaca wool price has considerably decreased, and it is not enough to feed our children so we are asking for more help.'' (Marcelina Campos Quispe. Alpaca farmer from Vila Vila District, Puno region)

"The show is very funny and it teaches us to prevent livestock illnesses, depending on the season. It has helped us a lot with our lives and we are very grateful. We would also like to have more programmes like this about the latest genetic developments and more about sanitary prevention.'' (Roberto Huaynacho Condori. Alpaca farmer from Vila Vila District, Puno region)

Given the project has only recently finished, it is not possible as yet to ascertain how sustainable any improvements will be be. However, the project did show that – despite low technical capacity and limited financial resources – it is possible for radio broadcasts to reach and affect a large audience; suggesting it is a model that others can consider for agricultural adaptation projects. 

Constraints and challenges

The limitations of radio as a medium must be recognised. It provides only one­way information at specific times rather than the 24/7 interactivity of other information and communication technologies. Its role is to raise awareness and perhaps to change attitudes, but it cannot deliver skills and is relatively poor at delivering knowledge. Therefore its limited role within any agricultural development and adaptation project must be recognised.

The general asset constraints of the target population constrained their ability to turn broadcast messages into actions. Their poverty, malnutrition and limited education all worked against this. And they were also hampered by simple asset problems like the limited availability and high cost of radio batteries.

Finally, the skew of climate change policy towards mitigation rather than adaptation is unhelpful. Peru does have policies on climate change but – perhaps following the agenda and lead set by the global North – these have had much more to say about mitigation than about measures to adapt to climate change (Cancino et al 2011). This despite the fairly self­evident fact that a developing country like Peru faces immediate and increasingly widespread problems due to climate change, and makes little contribution to the world's overall carbon outputs. 

Recommendations/ Lessons learned

Income is central to adaptive capacity and therefore it is appropriate for projects dealing with ICTs, agriculture and climate change to themselves have a central focus on income generation. This was the case with the CAMELTEC project. The broadcasts and other work on protection from cold snaps were only one small part of a much bigger picture that aimed to improve alpaca herd quality, farming practices, and market access – all this with the main goal of increasing the farmers' income since money is far and away the single most important asset that helps households adapt to climate change.

Radio should be part of a much broader intervention package. The emphasis in this case study has been on the role of radio, and its relation to climate variability. However, looked at overall, the CAMELTEC project was only in small measure about radio. The ICT was therefore used to support – by building awareness, reinforcing messages, and shifting attitudes – the main thrust of the project, which lay around training, market survey visits, formation or strengthening of collective enterprises, negotiation of purchase agreements, participatory budgeting workshops, and a breeding programme. Projects involving ICTs will only be effective if set within this type of broad approach since delivery of information – on its own – achieves little; it only becomes effective in synergy with other interventions that enable information delivery to be converted into action.

Address foundations and not just symptoms. The project could have focused on diseases and animal husbandry. But the root causes of problems in mountain areas typically fall back to issues of income (noted above) and the weak institutional and organisational foundations for the poor. Therefore, as just described, the CAMELTEC project invested much of its work in institutional development activities: training representatives from farming communities; creating collective enterprises such as community wool collection centres; and strengthening the farmer co­operatives so that they could, for example, negotiate better market prices and also engage with local government for participatory budgeting exercises. In all this, ICTs can have some role, but it is relatively limited.

Strengthen radio programming related to climate change adaptation. This would start with a clear understanding of information and communication needs (something many NGOs working with local communities may already have); shape radio programme design to those needs including use of a broad range of local languages; and enable interactive components for example through phone­in segments that make use of the relative accessibility of mobile phones within rural populations.