Peru is home to the world’s largest number of alpacas. The country has approximately 4 million of the animals, which is roughly 70% of the world ‘s total alpaca population. They are reared in high-altitude regions, generally more than 3,000 meters above sea level. The animals play a critical role in the lives of communities along the Andean plateau where crops cannot be grown and the only economic activity, besides mining, is alpaca herding. More than 1 million people, depend exclusively on alpacas for their livelihoods. Climate change poses a growing risk to alpacas and the communities they sustain. The Andes are experiencing shorter, but more intense, rainy seasons, and longer periods of drought. Frosts and hail storms have become more common. Changing weather patterns are shrinking natural pastures and reducing the quality of grasses. Peru already has lost 53.5 percent of its glacier coverage and could be without glaciers by 2100. This project aims to investigate how climate change in Peru is affecting Alpaca breeders by turning them into reluctant "climate migrants".
Series, 1st place
May 3, 2021. Portrait of Alina Surquislla, 35. Alina's family has been working with alpacas for three generations and owns more than 300 of them. In the interview she says: " When I was little, my grandfather used to tell me how beautiful the local valleys were and how suitable they were for grazing but the situation has changed. We can no longer live like before and I am forced to make many sacrifices, but this is my life and work and thanks to this I am able to support my children."
Peru has 70% of the world's alpacas. They are considered one of the country's main natural resources. Alpacas have a great ability to adapt to high altitudes, making them the economic livelihood of high altitude Andean communities settled above 3,000 meters in the southern and central highlands. They generate the meat and fiber essential to the economy of these communities. The geographic distribution of the alpaca population in Peru favors the region of Puno which has about 1,459,000 animals, followed by Cusco with about 545,000 and in third place Arequipa with about 468,000.
April 25, 2021. Peru is on the list of countries most susceptible to the impact of climate change, the negative effects of which are currently perceived as exceeding the permissible limits for alpaca breeding. The central and southern highlands are currently enduring an extremely aggressive climate with unpredictable temperature fluctuations in the high mountains (to -20 C), unusual winds, hailstorms, sudden rains, droughts, and prolonged summers. Many farmers believe in Pachamama (great mother goddess, goddess of the earth, agriculture and fertility). Given recent weather events they think something has been broken in their relationship with the deity and thus in the mountains.
March 13, 2021. Local traditions are gradually fading away. Among them is the "Chaqu", between the dry and rainy seasons, the whole community would thank the earth (Pachamama), the mountain (Apus) and the sun (Inti Raymi) for the year's harvest and grazing, sacrificing a small alpaca as a sign of gratitude. Today, these traditions are disappearing because the number of alpacas is decreasing, young people are leaving the countryside and an increase in poverty is preventing people from devoting time and resources to the festivities. Difficult living conditions mean that some rural people no longer feel grateful to the land.
March 11, 2021. Compared to about 30 years ago, climate conditions have greatly deteriorated in the Peruvian Andes. This causes an increase in diseases and mortality among alpacas. Alpaca breeders (Alpaqueros) are one of the poorest groups in the country and due to their economic situation many cannot afford to build a roof to protect the alpacas at night. This exposes them to the harsh climatic conditions found above 4000m, such as frost.
May 02, 2021. An Alpaca has just been killed for a ritual, to give thanks to Pachamama.
May 03, 2021. For all these reasons related to climate change, Alpaca breeding families organize transhumance four times a year. So they move to higher or lower altitudes depending on the climate and the season. During the transhumance, which is done on foot or with mules, the whole family moves. The social consequences of this displacement are visible as life becomes more isolated and children's education is affected due to the absence of schools at high altitudes. There are also problems with the family's access to water and electricity because often there is no supply. The photo captures the arrival of the flock at an area where the animals will spend the next three months.
March 11, 2021. During the rainy season, the alpacas stay in high altitudes, exposed to cold and frost. Families live nearby in the same temperatures. They cannot move to lower altitudes because otherwise the alpacas would eat the pasture that is being grown to provide food during the dry season and they would face the risk of starvation. Children do not go to school when the family moves to a high altitude. Once they grow up, most of them leave the life of Alpaqueros and move to cities at lower altitudes. It is usually very difficult to find work because they have no education. Pictured is a baby alpaca wearing a jacket to protect itself from the cold.
March 11, 2021. Since the 1970s, Peru has lost more than 40% of its glaciers, causing wetlands to shrink and leading pastoralists to overexploit their remaining pastures, resulting in numerous natural disasters that have cost more than 15 thousand lives. The most famous one goes by the name of El Niño and took place in 2017. The harmonious alternation of the two main seasons, dry and rainy, was broken: the sudden arrival of freezing temperatures and the unexpected and violent outbreak of thunderstorms followed by long periods of drought made the alpacas fall ill and die.
May 2, 2021. The family homes of the Alpaqueros are very isolated, often approached only on foot via a mountain path, with not even a dirt road in sight. People are forced to walk for hours. The photo was taken the day before a move to new grazing grounds, while the family was busy preparing for departure.
May 2, 2021. In the photo, Alina's family gathers for the transhumance that will take place the following day. During the move, a lot of labor is needed because driving 300 alpacas up a mountain for more than 6 hours is not easy. So the whole family gets together to support senior family members and younger people who have decided to continue with this work.
May 2, 2021. Pictured is a baby Alpaca from Alina's family who died from the common cold. Whether human populations will be able to remain permanently in the high Andean zone will depend on whether the Alpaqeros families can introduce technological innovation and an effective infrastructure. Creating fences, huts, water reservoirs, irrigation canals and stables with roofs would be enough. Because of the exploitation by buyers of Alpaca fiber, who impose a price per ounce, and owing to government indifference over the need to protect these families and curb the climate migration of young people, there is a risk that in coming years the Andean Alpaqueros culture will slowly disappear.