Alpaca Owners Association Documents Antimicrobial Properties Of Raw Alpaca Fiber

Textile World
By: Textile World

Original content from Textile World.  

LINCOLN, Neb. — December 3, 2018 — Alpaca Owners Association (AOA) announced recent laboratory testing results revealed that raw alpaca fiber possesses antibacterial properties.

“While the effect is modest, it is likely comparable to the natural antibacterial properties of scoured sheep’s wool,” said Bud Synhorst, Executive Director of AOA.  “This will increase the interest of alpaca fiber within the active apparel industry.”

The outdoor and sports apparel industry has seen increased interest in antimicrobial textile products from active consumers who want products that are odor resistant. The industry has largely addressed this demand by treating fabrics with chemicals that inhibit bacterial growth. By contrast, the antibacterial properties of the keratin component of animal fibers, including alpaca, are a more natural and durable alternative to chemical treatment.

Read the rest of this story at Textile World.

Nuñoa Project’s Peruvian Work

Nuñoa Project  
By: Dr. Steve Purdy
Photo: Courtesy of Nuñoa Project

Our Most Recent Trip

In June of 2018 our veterinary team lead by Drs. Gian D’Alterio from the UK and Jhoana Jimenez from Peru worked in remote areas of the Peruvian Andes.  The mission was to evaluate herds of local llama and alpaca farmers and identify changes that would improve their production.  The people of the altiplano rely on camelids to survive and even small improvements in the health and fertility of their herds have the potential to be of huge benefit to these rural families.

Llama Work in Cancha Cancha and Quishuarani communities, Department of Cusco

The June 2018 trip included work with 8 family herds about 3 hours’ drive or hike into the mountains from Urubamba, near Cusco.  The scenery there is beautiful and the communities are along the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu so on occasion the team saw groups of tourists with pack horses and mules carrying their gear.     

The team was working with the Llama Pack Project from Urubamba to make initial and repeat veterinary contacts with farmers.  The overall goal of their project is to assist the farm families to increase their income by using their llamas for packing with a secondary goal of generating income by providing meals to travelers and/or selling their beautiful hand woven crafts and clothing.  Packing was the traditional use for llamas in the Andes but they have been replaced over time by packing companies using equines.  Equines have been very destructive to the trails used by the local people for travel and have also contaminated the land and water with feces and urine as they work.  The environmental impact of llamas is much less due to their more discrete defecation and urination habits and softer feet.

The llama herd evaluations included looking at animal stature and body condition in regard to suitability for packing and overall nutritional status.  In addition, ultrasound pregnancy exams were performed to assess the efficacy of the breeding management plans of individual farmers; overall fertility results were good.   Farmers will start using superior males provided by Llama Pack Project to improve their herds following the model Nunoa Project has used successfully with alpaca farmers in the Department of Puno.  Females were tagged for identification and production tracking purposes again for the first time following our model.

Nunoa Project will continue to work with the Llama Pack Project to get more families to join this project in January 2019.  The farmers overall are very interested in getting their llamas into productive work.  Some farmers are a bit shy about working with the team but this is common in the Andes.  They have an initial distrust of foreigners but our repeat visits and positive attitude results in establishing trust for the future and recruitment of new farmers into the program. 

Alpaca Work in Nunoa, Pucara, and Lampa, Department of Puno

The Nunoa Project has been working for four years with farmers in the Pucara/Lampa area and this year also returned to our original work area of Nunoa at the request of multiple farmers there. Herds which were evaluated varied in animal quality and nutritional and reproductive status as in past years.  Most were very good but some could use better nutrition.  At one location in Pucara, Mario Idme and his wife Bonita Gomez had the highest pregnancy rate I have ever seen in Peru (or the US for that matter) in their small herd at 100%.  The farmers continue to improve their herds and they are increasingly aware of changes they can make to improve production as a result of our work.

Alpaca Work Summary:

1.    Body condition scores of animals were low in some locations and it was suggested that animals get more access to pasture and water. 
2.    Pregnancy rates were what is normally seen for most farmers in the altiplano at 70 to 80%.  One farmer achieved a 100% rate with an uncomplicated breeding management program.  He will teach this program to other farmers in the area. 
3.    Several farmers were interested in borrowing new breeding males in January 2019 during the next work trip.  These superior males are used to improve genetics and herd production of crias and fiber to increase income for the farmers.
4.    Enterotoxemia was not a major concern in the area in the 2018 birthing season. 
5.    Further training on reproduction record keeping to identify fertility of females and males would be useful for farmers who wish to employ it. 
6.    Cria mortality rates were normal for the altiplano, usually at approximately 10%. 
7.    Training on breeding behavior of breeding males and females might be of use to some farmers. 
8.    Most farmers are very enthusiastic about continuing to work to improve their herds.

Review of the Peruvian Work

We are very enthusiastic about the positive changes we have made, the new farmers we have met and what we can accomplish in the future.   I am always saddened when the Nunoa Project volunteers go their separate ways but also feel that we have made another set of lifelong friends who have experienced the challenges and rewards of working in the Peruvian altiplano.  Many thanks to the veterinary and pre-veterinary students and veterinarians who participate on these work trips and to my Peruvian veterinary colleague, Gerardo Diaz, whose input is critical to the success of the Nunoa Project’s work.  It is a pleasure to be able to work with these volunteers and the Peruvian people.

During the January 2019 work trip, we will again work with llama farmers in the Sacred Valley, and also with alpaca farmers in Nunoa, Pucara, and Lampa.  The trip will be co-led by Drs Gerardo Diaz of Peru and our experienced colleague Dr. Gisela Marcoppido of Argentina.  The team is also comprised of two other very experienced veterinarians, and veterinary students and post baccalaureate students trained in our North American Camelid Studies Program in the US.  We continue our loan program for superior males and have replaced some our older ones with younger males from a progressive Nunoa farmer.  Our work is paying off.

Nunoa Project’s US Work- the North American Camelid Studies Program

During each academic semester in western Massachusetts I work with undergraduate preveterinary students in the Alpaca and Donkey Reproduction and Camelid Management courses we provide.  I recommended 5 students for veterinary school admission this year who are waiting to hear about admission.  If they follow the course of past students as I expect they will, all will be starting veterinary school in the summer of 2019.  The total number of NACSP students admitted to veterinary school or other graduate school programs over the last 12 years is approximately 90.  We also offer a 6 day intensive Camelid Practice Course for veterinary students and veterinarians in June of each year.  It is well attended and approximately half of the Peruvian work volunteers have taken courses as undergraduates, veterinary students, or veterinarians.  The future is bright for large animal veterinary medicine and international agriculture based on these excellent young people with whom we work. 

Nunoa Project Veterinary Goals in Peru:
•    Veterinary assistance to farmers to improve production through herd evaluations and education
•    Expose students and veterinarians to the challenges and rewards of working in international agriculture
•    Make a positive difference in the lives of Peruvian farm families and veterinary students and veterinarians

Nunoa Project History in Peru:
•    12 years of twice annual veterinary team visits.
•    Three, 3 month veterinary team placements in the Andes to assist farmers.
•    Veterinary teams work directly with alpaca and llama farmers solving problems presented to us
•    Management and reproduction advice and training seminars are provided to farmers.
•    Approximately 100 student and veterinarian volunteers from the US, Peru, Argentina, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and Germany have participated in and been trained during our work trips.

Please help support the work of the Nuñoa Project. Private donations such as yours are needed to fund all of the work each year.

Learn more about Nuñoa Project here

Congratulations Songuillay!

By: Kennedy Leavens and Brianna Griesinger
Photo: Courtesy of AWAMAKI

The highlight of our year is the graduation of Songuillay, a cooperative of 42 women in the community of Patacancha. This is a major milestone for Awamaki. Songuillay was the first group of artisans with whom we worked, and some of their members have been with us for all of our nearly ten years. In fact, it was they who suggested the name Awaqmaki, which means handwoven, for the new non-profit we were founding.

The weavers of the Songuillay cooperative live in the community of Patacancha, a remote, high-altitude Quechua village. When we started working with them, most of the women had no way to access cash income. When Awamaki began, we initially ordered traditional flat textile pieces like table runners and wall hangings for our store from the artisans. Eventually, we moved to ordering textiles in specific sizes so we could create more saleable items like pillowcases and bags and then to specific designs, colors and sizes of textile for our export and custom orders. We also grew our tourism program in partnership with them. The program started informally, as our team invited tourists we met in our store to join us when they went up for meetings with Songuillay. Now, the program has grown into a major source of revenue for us and several of our artisan cooperatives, with 6 tour offerings. It is the #1 most popular tour designation on TripAdvisor for the area, and a National Geographic World Legacy Award Finalist.

With your support over these past nine years, we have worked with Songuillay to provide training in hosting tourist groups and customer service; in natural dyes and weaving technique such as color theory and quality control; and in business, financial literacy and leadership skills. The women have completed construction on their artisan center, allowing them to host tourists in inclement weather and hold meetings and trainings in their own space. With the income they earn from their work, these 42 women care for a total of 128 children. With 110 of these children currently enrolled in school, their futures are bright.

In the last few years, Songuillay has grown their tourism business outside the tours we bring. “The women were approached by several tourism agencies during the high season, and managed to make a deal by themselves, and were able to do so without any of our support,” Melissa, our Sustainable Tourism Coordinator, said, explaining why we believe they are ready to graduate. Our design team agrees: This year, when we went to them to ask them to make the textiles for the samples for developing our next year’s export collection, as they do every year, they turned us down because they were too busy with orders from new clients in Lima.

When a cooperative gains their own direct clients, it means a lot to us here at Awamaki. Not only are the women clearly demonstrating new skills and abilities learned in the capacity building workshops, but they have also completed our training program, called the Impact Model, and are now fully ready for graduation.

After their graduation, we will continue to work with them to bring tourism and order textiles, but we will make a greater shift to focus training and market access programs on the newer cooperatives we added last year in preparation for this. Songuillay’s graduation is part of the continued fulfillment of our long-held goal of moving cooperatives through our business training program, called the Impact Model; giving them the skills they need to lead successful, independent businesses; graduating them from our model; and opening more space for new cooperatives that want to learn to run their own businesses.

“We developed the Awamaki Impact Model as a way to encourage the women to make improvements in their businesses and to take initiative in their work,” Kennedy Leavens, founder and executive director, explains. “Our vision is that through our program, they will not only earn an income but also learn to run a successful business beyond our guidance.”

Thanks to your support and their hard work, we believe the women of Songuillay are well on their way.

Learn more about AWAMAKI here.

Stepping Up to the Challenge

By: Brianna Griesinger
Photo: Courtesy of AWAMAKI

Over the course of the past year, we have realized that the development of our 2019 line, Kay Pacha, would be a year of change and growth for many of our artisans.

A few months ago, our team led a women’s empowerment workshop in Kelkanka; when we asked the artisans what they would like the theme of their next workshop to be, they unanimously requested: quality control. Since then, the women have demonstrated a strong interest in learning, and improving their textiles. They recognize that by developing this skill, it will act as a path that will lead them to receive more orders in the future. Not only is this path a priority for Kelkanka, but the Awac Puña cooperative in Patacancha has also been prioritizing the development of their technical skills. 

“We’re very proud of that because it shows that the workshops have proven to be effective; they’ve taken it upon themselves to gain business, and we’re able to continue building them up as professionals,” head designer, Alejandra Carrillo-Muñoz asserts of the women.

“During design workshops and empowerment workshops, we stress to the artisans to have pride in their craft, the importance of punctuality and responsibility; because at the end of the day, when we’re not here they need to continue working this way with other clients,” Alejandra details. Looking at the bigger picture, the artisans need to have these skills going forward, and we are thrilled to know that the women are eager to learn them.

Every summer we begin working on our new line of artisan made accessories for the year to come. Samples are woven, colors are selected, designs are adjusted, and over the course of the following months, we see it all come to life, from the creative vision of Alejandra in collaboration with our artisans, to handmade products ready to be shipped across the globe. We work hard to get all of our product samples complete in time for the annual photoshoots, and before Alejandra leaves us for the year. You could say, we don’t just trust these tasks with just anyone, we call on the professionals.

This year we worked closely with five of our nine cooperatives to help with sample work, one for spinning, two for knitting, and two for weaving. While our spinners and knitters are seasoned experts at this time-sensitive project, this was the first time that Wakanquilla and Awac Puña had been tasked with such an undertaking. For the past ten years, we have delegated weaving samples to our most well-trained weavers from the Songuillay cooperative, however, they recently found themselves busy with their own new clients, a milestone for which we are extremely proud. We’ve been partnered with the 22 women of the Wakanquilla cooperative in Kelkanka for ten years, while the 30 women in the Awac Puña cooperative have been working with us for about three years now. Despite the short duration of our partnership, however, the women of Awac Puña have proven just how ready they were for the challenge.

Up until this point, the artisans of Wakanquilla and Awac Puña have been responsible for weaving only their own designs for our store in Peru, while they undergo color theory and quality control workshops. Weaving new designs is always challenging, despite it being their first time, they were able to read the two dimensional designs provided to them by Alejandra and making it three dimensional all on their own.

In a recent visit up to the community, Mercedes Durand, Head of Women’s Cooperatives, along with Alejandra, were able to check in with the artisans regarding some of the tools we have  created to help the women execute the designs to their fullest abilities.

Most of these artisans have only ever designed from patterns that they keep in their heads, passed from generation to generation. It is difficult to imagine a transition to designs presented on a piece of paper. “While not an industry standard by any means, we’ve had to find our own set of tools specific to the communities with whom we work,” Alejandra explains, “‘cartulinas,’ that’s the name we gave them, and a concept we came up with. It is an aid for the artisans to be able to interpret two dimensional design.”

‘Cartulinas’ are customized cardboard tools that act as a specialized measuring device for their textiles. The artisans simply have to apply the cartulina to the textile they are weaving to ensure the spacing and alignment is up to quality control standards. “It’s kind of our way of helping them out and giving them a tool and a resource for them to interpret, the mix of contemporary design and traditional design.” Each design and individual product has its own cartulina to aid the artisan in charge of that textile, and while it is still a challenge, we know it has been tremendously useful for them to refine their newly learned skills.

“Orders for export come with a certain responsibility; we have to help them meet that responsibility by creating workshops that will support their understanding with what export is in general,” Alejandra explains, “we began that journey early in 2018 explaining what the international market is, what our role is, what role they serve within the organization; the follow-up to that was to get them weaving our initial samples.”

Wakanquilla has traditionally been a challenge for us to work with simply because of the distance from Ollantaytambo to Kelkanka. On a good day, the drive is at least three hours, and during the rainy season, the road may be blocked altogether. Therefore, training them to be ready for the demands of export quality production, though rewarding, has been a slow process.
The artisans of Wakanquilla have been working hard weaving textiles for the store in Peru, but they have not been ready for orders of export-quality textiles until this year. Mercedes has been an advocate of them, pushing our organization to invest more in their community and give them the same training opportunities as other cooperatives, despite the geographical challenges. Recently, we have  been able to include them in design workshops in order to guide them to start producing samples of export-quality standards.

“Awac Puña slowly started proving themselves last year,” Alejandra points out. Although at this time last year, they were not turning in samples for the start of the new design season, they were stepping in to fill some orders for export throughout the year. They have proven their work to be of consistently high quality and have maintained a professional outlook about the work they have been completing.

“Not only are their textiles clean and consistent and meticulous in their craft, but they turn them in on time and are reliable; they’re very unified as group,” Alejandra eagerly remarks in relation to Awac Puña. “They’re very communicative amongst themselves. They help each other with samples, and it shows in the quality of their work.” We are excited to see them displaying leadership, strength, and potential for even more growth.

Kay Pacha, our 2019 line is on its way, and the women of Awac Puña and Wakanquilla have included many special touches on the pieces. Sampling, as part of the design process, inevitably leads to influences made by the artisans themselves. This year we are very excited to have incorporated ideas and traditional techniques that are unique to both of these cooperatives of exceptional artists. These never-before seen details are sure to make our new collection an exceptional one, one that would not have been possible without the dedication, determination, and development of each of our partner cooperatives.

Learn more about AWAMAKI here.