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In rural Peru, a chance to earn a living

By Anna Kramer
Evangelina Hiladio Chuyo in the dairy she built on her farm. Photo: Percy Ramirez/Oxfam America

With Oxfam’s support, enterprising farmers are turning milk and cheese into cash.

In Espinar, Peru, opportunities to earn income are few and far between. With no other way to provide for their families, many locals end up leaving home and seeking work in other parts of the country. But thanks to support from Oxfam, Evangelina Hiladio Chuyo didn’t have to be one of them.

“My husband and I have a small dairy. We have milk, and I can make cheese [to sell],” said the 38-year-old mother of two sons. “I don’t have to leave my community to earn income.”

Hiladio’s journey toward becoming a small-business owner began in 2010, when she and her neighbors learned how to raise dairy cows and make cheese in a training led by Oxfam’s local partner organization. The training was part of an effort to help farmers in Espinar find ways to improve their incomes.

“Generally, people here raise alpacas or other animals. They grow potatoes to eat, not to sell,” said Oxfam America program officer Lorena Del Carpio of the hardships facing people in this rural Andean region, where altitudes can top 13,000 feet above sea level. “Their opportunities to earn a livelihood are limited. There are not many choices.”

In 2011, Hiladio joined an Oxfam America-funded project designed to help communities in Espinar adapt to climate change. Local farmers say that rainfall shortages, periods of intense cold, and other extreme weather are making it harder for them grow crops and raise livestock. The project helped farming families like Hiladio’s pilot new technologies to help solve these problems—including rain-fed reservoirs to conserve water, sprinkler irrigation systems for their pastures, and cold-resistant grasses for animals.

“At the beginning we didn’t have good [pasture] and we didn’t have a reliable source of water,” said Hiladio. “With the support of this project, we have grass; we have water. We sold the cows we had before and bought milking cows, which are high quality.”

Like many of the farmers participating in the project, Hiladio and her husband Alejandro have invested their own time and money in expanding their earning opportunities. With their herd flourishing, the couple built a dairy—a small, low-ceilinged building not far from their front door—and stocked it with a freezer, pasteurizing equipment, cheese molds, and more.

Each day Hiladio makes cheese—a soft, sharp-flavored local variety called paria—in between caring for her animals. On Sundays, she walks for half an hour to catch the nearest bus so she can sell the cheese in the market in the regional capital.

“I usually take 30 cheeses … [and] I sell them for about 13 soles (about $4.50) each, so that’s about 400 soles ($145) a week,” she explained. “Little by little, with the sale of cheese, I am improving the dairy: the walls, the floor, the kitchen, the equipment.”

Besides generating much-needed income, Hiladio said she’s also transformed her role within the household. Now, “as a woman, I don’t need my husband to do all the work with livestock,” she said proudly. “I know how.”