Pastoral production and its discontents: Alpaca and sheep herding in Caylloma, Peru
This study focuses on the lives and livelihoods of smallholding herders who reside in the high pastoral zones in the Province of Caylloma (Department of Arequipa) in southern Peru. Pastoralists in this region, also known as the upper Colca Valley, rely largely on family labor to raise camelids, sheep, and cattle. Sales of alpaca fiber, mutton and beef constitute primary sources of income, and residents rely on the market to acquire most consumption goods. The investigation explores the position of these simple commodity producers within the wider political economy and their responses to social and economic inequities. The overarching research methodology--tracing the flow of pastoral commodities--clarifies the interrelationships between temporally and spatially dispersed social processes.
Ten months of ethnographic fieldwork in a small herding community included participant observation, structured interviews and collection of family and individual histories. These data provide a strong foundation for analyzing local systems of production and exchange and their imbeddedness in social organization. Additional information collected from fiber traders and exporters, meat dealers, local and state officials, and technical experts affords a broader regional, national, and international perspective on the commercialization of pastoral goods.
Local residents are vulnerable to perturbations in the national economy and fluctuations in commodity prices. Further, they see their efforts as guardians of native camelids, an important national resource, receiving little official acknowledgment or support, a perspective which pertains to broader sense of cultural and political disenfranchisement. Local strategies for dealing with these tensions are twofold. People protect and enhance their interests at the level of household production through flexible, cooperative relations with kin. And, since the mid-1980s, herders in Caylloma have formed a grassroots organization to improve fiber prices through collective sales, to implement technical assistance programs, and to advocate for more favorable state policies.