Guinea pigs are a centuries-old delicacy for the peoples of the Andes - and for more than 100 families in Ecuador, they are a source of income and nutrition, thanks to a project supported by UNDP.
In the district of Cevallos, in central Ecuador, most people make their living off the land. This region produces a significant portion of Ecuador's fruit supply, including apples, pears and tamarillos, a kind of tree tomato that is very popular in the region. However, continuously falling ash from the nearby Tungurahua volcano, which has been increasingly active since 1999, has taken its toll on the agricultural sector, destroying crops and leaving the soil ill-suited for planting.
Faced with this situation, the community has redirected its efforts towards new livelihoods under the leadership of municipal officials. For the past three years, UNDP has supported the development of one the new initiatives proposed by the community: the modernized production of pigs and guinea pigs.
"Raising small livestock can also be a very profitable business, especially for small farmers," said Jeannette Fernandez, UNDP's national advisor for risk management in Ecuador. "It also offers employment opportunities for vulnerable groups, such as women, children and disabled persons. It is both a source of income and a means to significantly improve people's everyday diet."
Guinea pigs are a delicacy with high nutritional value that the Andean peoples of South America have been enjoying since the days of the Incans, almost a millennium ago. According to data from the National Independent Institute for Crop and Livestock Research, demand for and total production of guinea pigs has undergone considerable change in the last nine years. Some 20 percent of guinea pigs consumed in Ecuador are still imported, the majority from neighbouring countries such as Peru. Such numbers indicate that raising guinea pigs domestically is an industry with high-growth potential.
Seventy percent of all guinea pig production in Ecuador is in the hands of small and medium-sized farmers. However, such farmers lack the technology and resources needed to meet the growing demand for these animals in both Ecuador and neighbouring countries.
Using seed money supplied in part by UNDP, farmers and the Cevallos municipal government stepped up the raising and selling of guinea pigs. Training centres were created for 22 producers' associations, focusing on improving the genetic quality of livestock; the proper handling and feeing of animals; the industrialization of production; and the marketing of guinea pigs and pigs to local, national and eventually international consumers. Producers who took part in the training then, in turn, put the skills they acquired into practice through 40 family pens, significantly improving standards for controlled breeding, sanitation and feeding of animals.
"The guinea pigs develop better; I've seen the difference in just one month," says Soledad Bayas, the owner of one of the pilot operations. "Now even their weight has completely changed thanks to the improved way we are raising them."
For more information:
UNDP Ecuador: http://www.pnud.org.ec