20/11/2013 | PRODUCTIVE INNOVATION
Guanaco fibre for social and technological sustainable development
CONICET researchers work together with a social cooperative to produce thread for luxury clothing in Argentina for the first time.
Guanaco fibre is considered a luxury item. Photo: courtesy Gabriela Lichtenstein / Sergio Aguirre.

In European design shops, almost one thousand dollars is the price of a shawl produced with thread made of guanaco fibres. However, according to the values provided by the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA), the Argentine producer received only 80 dollars per fibre kilogram, a value chain where most profits remained abroad.

This is the reason why CONICET researchers have been working since 2005 with the Payún Matrú cooperative of Malargüe, in the province of Mendoza, Argentina, to develop a programme for the sustainable management of the species.

The acknowledgment of this work made the Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation announce the granting of the sum of $5.5 millions, provided by the National Agency for the Promotion of Science and Technology, for the development of a production model. The aim is to improve small producers’ quality of life by the sustainable use of guanacos and the appropriation of technological innovations.

The project will be developed by a consortium integrated by CONICET, the Malargüe Municipality, the Payún Matrú Cooperative and the National Institute of Industrial Engineering (INTI). “It is a project that from the beginning joined scientific rigour with technology transference to most vulnerable sectors”, explains Gabriela Lichtenstein, associate researcher of CONICET and one of the promoters of the initiative.

“The guanaco has one of the finest fibres in the world, recognized by its silky softness, low weight and insulating quality. Argentina is the country with the biggest population of these camelids around the globe and it is able to develop products and a market for its fibres, an excellent socio-productive opportunity for our country”, she affirms.

Lichtenstein and Pablo Carmanchahi, also researcher of CONICET, work together with Payún Matrú on the design of new capture methodologies, animal handling and herd; and the later fibres production.

Besides, the project contemplates the socio-economic and environmental characteristics of Las Salinillas, a place far from the Malargüe region where the cooperative operates. “The idea was to promote settlement and generate sources of employment at a local level”, Lichtenstein comments.

Apart from that, the project includes not only the installation of fibre processing plant, alongside its electric power and telephone network – which will also provide energy and communication for a population that so far did not have those services- but also training courses for animal handling techniques for the species and fibre processing.

 

More fibre without neglecting the guanaco

One of the first steps was the design of the herd, capture, shearing and later release system of the guanacos for the productive sector transfer, that is to say, to the cooperative. The design was in charge of Carmanchahi, who included techniques to improve productivity and take care of the animal’s welfare.

These new care protocols, developing since 2005, allowed reducing mortality during the capture, herd and shearing from the evaluation of parameters with different levels.

One of the aspects analysed was the effect of the capture, handling and shearing on the physiological side, for which hormone levels related to stress were examined. As regards behavioural aspects, the researchers tried to identify the habits that will result in animal’s discomfort during the handling. Lastly, the studies about guanacos’ population helped to determine the effects the procedure has on the individuals and the groups as well as the behaviour after the release.

“By studying these three aspects, we could identify handling actions that allowed us to reduce the impact of this activity over the captured guanacos”, Carmanchahi comments. This resulted in a reduction of mortality and the risk for the workers that handle wild, strong and heavy animals that could weight between 120-150 kilograms.

 

Added value

The second step was to add value to the fibre, transform it into thread to produce items of clothing. The members of the cooperative began to work in the process of removing bristles and the yarn, but that used to take them a long time and was not profitable.

“Those processing techniques with a spindle were ancient, and the spinners had to work for a month an a half to produce one kilogram of thread”, Marcos Díaz, secretary of the Payún Matrú cooperative explains.

The plant, which will be installed after the granting of this project, will allow processing the same quantity in an hour and increasing the productivity of the cooperative. “The fibre is going to be used by Argentines”, Díaz affirms.

From the incorporation of this new technology and handling methodology, the number of animals they work with during the season could increase. Besides, the cooperative will be able to process fibre produced by other enterprises that also work with guanacos.

At the same time, the participation of INTI will foster the development of new textile products with an identity adapted to the needs of the market. “We hope that this project can join the conservation of a wild species to the socio-productive development of the arid regions of our country”, Lichtenstein highlights.

The National Agency for the Promotion of Science and Technology, under the scope of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation, approved the allocation of more than ARS 32.000.000 for subsidies to five projects presented by public-private partnerships oriented to the utilization of camelid fibre. Alongside with the contributions of companies and institutions involved with each consortium, the investment to pursue the initiatives will increase to $52.000.000.

Projects:

– “Development of a production model for the improvement of the quality of life of small rural producers, based on the sustainable use of guanacos and the appropriation of technological innovations”, which will be implemented by the Payún Matrú Agricultural cooperative of provision, transformation and marketing; the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET); the National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI) and the Malargüe Municipality.

– “Technological development of processes and innovative products for the camelids value chain”, presented by a consortium integrated by the INTI, the National Technological University and the companies “Textil de los Andes S.A.” and “Hilados Santa Maria S.A.”.

– “Jujuy Fibres” will be undertaken by the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA), the Agro-livestock Cooperative of Rio Grande San Juan and the Ministry of Production of the province of Jujuy.

– Consortium integrated by the National University of Rio Negro, the Surcos Patagónicos Civil Association, the Mercado de la Estepa Quimey Piuké Civil Association and the Rio Negro Wildlife Directorate.

– “Industrialization of camelids’ fine fibre for social inclusion”, presented by the INTI, the INTA and the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Production of Salta.