The textile industry, subject to the implacable Asian competition all over the world, is betting in Peru on alpaca wool, whose sustainable production generates jobs and adds value.
In the Pacomarca farm, located six kilometres from the town of Llalli, not far from Lake Titicaca (southeast), hundreds of alpacas graze in highland meadows.
“Alpacas are one of the few animals that can survive more than 4,000 metres and are profitable for their breeders,” says biologist Alan Cruz, the director of the farm, a research center of the textile group Inca, dedicated to studies alpaca genetics (Vicugna pacos).
Each animal on the farm wears a tag in the ear that allows researchers to consult an entire database, including the wool produced. In a country with 4 million specimens — 85% of the world’s livestock, the rest in Bolivia and Chile — this research is primarily economic.
Indeed, the more delicate the alpaca wool fiber, the higher the price, allowing it to position itself in the high-end market alongside Indian cashmere and South African mohair, a of the biggest producers in the world.
Alpaca wool, an animal domesticated 6,000 years ago by the ancient inhabitants of the Andes, has become the spearhead of the prosperous Peruvian textile industry (US$1.4 billion in exports in 2018), in particular in Arequipa, the second largest city in the country (southwest).
Founded in 1931, Michell is the leader in the wool industry in the country, employing 2,500 employees in its various subsidiaries.
But the sector also has small and medium-sized spinning and confectionery factories, some of which are dedicated to ‘maquila’, that is to say the supply of wool for other large producers.
“The washing and finishing process is the most important thing in the alpaca,” says Erika Muñoz, head of Brisan, a small clothing factory, where a dozen people work.
Another company, Art Atlas, 500 employees, has experienced a vertiginous growth. A small knitwear company that started two decades ago, it now designs, manufactures and exports thousands of garments each year.
“Five years ago, we decided to launch our own brand with the idea of generating our own activity in the low season. Our collection was very well received on the market”, explains its founder, Jessica Rodriguez.
In total, the sector employs 250,000 families who live directly or indirectly from alpaca, from modest Andean pastoralists to large industrialists.
Exports of alpaca wool textiles do not compete with those of cotton textiles (US$744 million in 2018, the agency responsible for promoting the country), but prices are higher and they are growing faster.
In 2018, Peru exported US$308 million worth of alpaca, 22% more than in 2017, according to the industry association. The price of alpaca textiles was US$ 91 per kilogramme in 2018, compared to US$44 per kilogramme for Peruvian cotton.
Like the vicuña, llama and guanaco, the alpaca — of which there are two species huacaya and suri — has for ancestor the camel. Each animal produces three kilos of wool. The finest and most expensive fiber is called ‘baby alpaca’, even though it does not come specifically from baby alpacas.
For decades, Peruvian manufacturers favored white wool, later dyed. But the demand for natural colors, thirty, continues to grow. Black wool is rarer, with 60% of animals being white.
For this reason, the farm Pacomarca has launched a programme of ‘recovery’ of the black alpaca, which currently represents 10% of the herd, says Alan Cruz. – AFP