The Bolivian community of Turco is located at more than 12,000 feet above sea level, on the country’s windswept high-desert “Altiplano,” 95 miles west of the mining capital of Oruro. Life here is hard and the local economy has always revolved around llamas and mining. Over the decades, Turco has provided generations of workers for the country’s tin and copper mines, and before that, for the now-depleted gold and silver mines of the Spanish conquistadors. However, in recent years, most of Turco’s young people have migrated away to Oruro, or to the capital city of La Paz, in search of better economic prospects, leaving Turco depleted and on the road to becoming a ghost town.
Thankfully, this situation is beginning to change in part due to the humble snack food “jerky,” whose origin is derived from the Quechua word for dried llama meat, or “charque.” Today, Turco is known not only for its miners and its past glory days, but also as Bolivia’s center for the production of specialty llama meats, such as llama jerky, salami, mortadella, smoked sausages and other products. Under PCI’s USDA-funded MIS Llamas project, residents of Turco formed a certified meat processing center, which now employees 15 residents who manufacture and ship llama products to supermarkets and restaurants around Bolivia, as well as to the regional government’s school feeding program, where healthy charque provides much needed protein and micronutrients to area school children.
Turco resident Magno Acevedo says that despite the fact that he never attended college, thanks to his work at the processing center, and from MIS Llamas-provided training, he has become a recognized expert on meat processing in Bolivia. Today, Mr. Acevedo also provides technical assistance to local and regional governments and NGOs in sanitation and meat processing techniques. Moreover, according to Mr. Acevedo, PCI’s savings and empowerment program has also helped residents to become more united as a community and better able to meet their financial needs and obligations, including responding to market fluctuations as well as addressing health and education needs of local families.
Turco residents say that the core values and principles of PCI as an organization have helped to improve civic life in this community, including motivating leadership through training and confidence building, bringing hope for a productive future, and offering a reason for young people to stay and continue rebuilding. And not only is this program transforming Turco, but MIS Llamas has helped to transform the llama industry across the Bolivian altiplano — from infrastructure improvements that dramatically increased animal survival; to the design, production and sale of meat, leather and wool products sold around the country and exported to Peru, Brazil, Italy and the United States.