Artemio Tello is a lifelong potato farmer and the president of Pusacpampa, a small community in the Comas District of the Concepción Province in the central highlands of Peru. He lives with his wife and four children between the ages of eight and fifteen, each of whom attends school in the nearby town of Comas. Artemio holds his position as president with pride and determination. From his perspective, he has a responsibility to ensure not only the wellbeing of his family, but that of his entire community.
There are about sixty families in Pusacpampa, nearly all of whom are potato farmers. Potatoes are one of the few crops that grow reliably in their high-altitude climate nearly 11,000 feet above sea level. But many families in the community struggle economically—according to Artemio, potato farming does not yield much income and market prices fluctuate quite a bit. Recently, their yields have also been affected by frost that occurs rapidly overnight during periods of colder weather. Some families supplement their incomes from potato farming with other small business activities. Artemio’s family raises a small number of cattle to sell at market.
Twice a year, normally in January and August, the farmers of Pusacpampa load their potato harvest into trucks that are shared by the community and drive over fifty miles through the mountains to sell them in the markets of Huancayo, the capital of the Junín Region. Huancayo contains the largest markets within reach of Pusacpampa, but the competition is stiff as many other potato farmers in the region make the same journey. There is no guarantee that the farmers will be able to sell all of their harvest, let alone at a good price.
Two years ago, Artemio ran for president of Pusacpampa—an elected position—with the promise of making economic improvements in the community. As president, he manages and implements various community development projects, such as making improvements to the roads and other infrastructure throughout the community. But Artemio recognizes that they can only do so much with Pusacpampa’s limited resources, which is why he never forgets a key aspect of his campaign promise:
“When I ran for president of Pusacpampa two years ago, I promised to make improvements to our community. But to do this, we would need to find companies that could bring more economic opportunities and employment . . . Luckily, we were approached by Inka Moss earlier this year.”
Inka Moss S.A.C. is a social enterprise founded in 2008 that works with remote communities in the Peruvian Andes to source, process, and export moss that grows naturally in the region. The company incorporates members of these communities as suppliers in its value chain, providing technical assistance and education to ensure sustainable harvesting practices.
Scientifically known as sphagnum magellanicum, the moss is a protected natural resource in Peru—it cannot be harvested without permission from the regional government. Over the past decade, Inka Moss has established itself within a strong international market of buyers that use this moss as substrate in horticulture, especially orchid cultivation. When harvested sustainably, the moss can serve as an additional source of income for many communities across the Andes. Inka Moss operates under the belief that this additional income can catalyze community development and improve livelihoods.
In March 2019, Inka Moss approached Artemio with a proposition — why not harvest the moss that grows abundantly in the mountains around Pusacpampa?
Artemio did not know about the value of this moss before meeting with Inka Moss, but it didn’t take much convincing for him to realize that it was an unmistakable opportunity for his community.
“When Inka Moss first visited our community , we did not know anything about the moss. Now we know that it is quite valuable.”
Today, Artemio and more than thirty other members of Pusacpampa are learning from Inka Moss how to identify and harvest moss sustainably. The company visits the community frequently to ensure that its members are fully trained and can harvest high-quality moss without depleting the natural resource. At the time that Artemio was interviewed in July 2019, Inka Moss was just weeks away from obtaining official authorization from the regional government to begin collecting moss from Puscapampa.
Artemio is confident that the partnership with Inka Moss will strengthen his community and help lift Pusacpampa above its economic struggles.
“We are excited to begin harvesting. I believe that the moss will support us immensely, especially to help our children get a good education. Right now, agriculture alone is not economically sufficient for us to pay for our children’s education, food, and health. With the additional income from the moss, we will be able to afford more and achieve more as a community.”
In addition to higher family incomes from harvesting moss, approximately 7% of each sale to Inka Moss will be reserved for a community fund, which will be used for economic development and infrastructure projects determined by Artemio and other members of the community.
In 2018, the harvesters in Inka Moss’ network made an average of US$309 for the bags of moss sold. Of these sales, the harvesters kept 56% (US$173), while the rest went to community funds and the drivers who transported the moss from the communities to Inka Moss’ collection centers. Inka Moss believes this revenue sharing structure creates a win-win situation for the entire community.
In March 2019, MCE Social Capital made a $150,000 investment in Inka Moss to support the growth of the business and enable the company to reach more communities like Pusacpampa. To date, Inka Moss has incorporated 26 communities into its value chain network, positively impacting the lives of more than 7,800 people.
Story and photos by Harrison Pharamond, MCE Impact Analyst and Communications Associate