The alpacas have adapted as no other species to the cold and dry weather of the highlands of Peru and Bolivia and to the more than 3500 meters above sea level. This has made the alpaca and the llama in general, one of the main livelihoods of the families living in the Andean highlands.
These families live in places where agriculture or raising other livestock is not possible. This hostile climate is precisely the best environment for the alpacas to develop their high-quality fiber.
Today, Peru and Bolivia are the biggest producers of alpacas. In 2010, Bolivia reported about 400,000 alpacas and about 10,000 families who make a living by breeding them and providing raw material for the production of yarn and garments (Agronomists and Veterinarians Without Borders. 2013).
Besides adaptability and resistance, the alpaca offers high quality fibers that are highly sought after in the fashion industry. Alpaca shearing is done mostly in Andean countries like Peru and Bolivia. These processes are carried out by entire families dedicated to the exploitation of camelids such as the alpaca, llama and vicuna.
Peru is the main country when it comes to breeding alpacas with 80% (almost 3.600.00 animals) of the world's population of alpacas. Bolivia has a little over 8% of the total population. Bolivia has an average of 4.5 pounds of fiber per animal. (Agronomists and Veterinarians Without Borders. 2013).
Peru is the largest producer of alpaca fiber with an average of 3,500 metric tons (MT) per year and Bolivia produces on average about 430 MT. (Agronomists and Veterinarians Without Borders. 2013).
Alpaca production systems
In Peru and Bolivia the alpacas are mostly bred in communities. These systems are based on the exploitation of native pasture and mixed herds. Both in Bolivia and in Peru, the management systems are traditional and in communities with a very low level of technological development.
When it comes to shearing, this is done mostly with manual or mechanical scissors. In both countries, shearing is carried out from October to December. During this time there is more forage available, so there is more food for the alpacas. The food can influence the size, fineness and strength of the fiber.
When shearing, breeders must identify whether an alpaca is ready or not to be sheared. An alpaca will be ready if: it’s 2 years old and the fiber is 12 centimeters long. The sheared fiber length should be shorter than 7 cm.
In Peru the alpacas are sheared each year, while in Bolivia every two years. This depends on the climate and the food. The alpacas which are about to give birth, the hatchlings and the females with newborn calves are not sheared.
The production and manufacture of various alpaca garments and accessories is mostly carried out by families. These families of artisans from Bolivia and Peru perform the work manually or with manual machines such as looms or weavers. Then they can sell it themselves in shops or fairs or sell it to intermediaries who are responsible for the sale and exportat.
The Behavior of the World Alpaca Fiber Market: ¿What prospects does it offer? Agronomists and Veterinarians Without Borders. Binational Alpaca Project. February 2013..
Interview with Telmo Robalino and Freddy Maldonado. Agronomists and Veterinarians Without Borders (AVSF) Bolivia.