UN rushes aid as unexpected cold spell threatens Peruvian livestock

Communities of the Andes are among the poorest in Peru

31 July 2008 – The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has provided urgently needed medical supplies to poor farmers in the Peruvian highlands whose livestock are suffering as a result of a severe unseasonable cold spell, known locally as “El friaje.”

The antiparasitic medicines, antibiotics and vitamins are being used to treat some 18,000 alpacas in the country’s Pilpichaca en Huanvavelica district that have been weakened or fallen ill as a result of the unexpected cold snap.

The El friaje phenomenon involves a combination of unseasonable low temperatures, frosts, snow and hail that damages crops and the high-altitude pastures on which alpacas graze, according to Marc Vandersmissen, FAO’s Emergency Coordinator in Peru.

This year, the cold arrived well ahead of the usual season – in March and April, instead of June – and many small-scale farmers have not been able to harvest their crops.

The early arrival of the cold weather has greatly affected alpaqueros – smallholders in high-altitude areas whose livelihoods depend completely on raising alpacas. Pastures have been covered in snow which has frozen over, making grazing impossible. Unable to find adequate food, the alpacas have become weak and susceptible to disease, Mr. Vandersmissen said.

The gravity of the situation has led the Peruvian Government to declare a state of emergency in 11 of the country’s 25 provinces.

While FAO’s intervention has helped to treat numerous alpacas, llamas and sheep, the agency is warning of possible increased livestock sickness and mortality in September in the high Andes of central and southern Peru, where alpaca production depends on natural pastures that have been extremely affected by the friaje.

A field assessment is being carried out in the five most affected provinces and FAO is asking donors for emergency funds to prevent any further damage to the livelihoods of Peru’s high-altitude alpaqueros.

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