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Inka moss

Inka Moss, Sphagnum moss, Peru (buyer)

At 3,200 metres above sea level, the Andean highlands are one of the most challenging terrains to farm. Income from small-scale farming is little and unpredictable, but the women there have found an opportunity in wild moss.

Sphagnum moss is vital for the development of orchids, which is a growing industry here in the UK, as well as the USA, France, Taiwan, Japan, China, Thailand, Hawaii, and Singapore. Founded in 2010, Inka Moss helps farmers in the highlands of Peru to benefit from this growing market. Sphagnum moss is a valuable commodity, as it acts as a natural anti-bactericide, humidity collector and absorbs heavy metals; characteristics that make it ideal for various crops, which require high amounts of moisture, especially orchids.

Marco Piñatelli, Founder and General Manager said:

“The loan has also given us the opportunity to include more remote communities within our supply chain.”

PERUVIAN MOSS IS A GROWING INDUSTRY

Inka Moss were recently been awarded the title of a B Corporation. To be referred to as a B Corp, an organisation must meet high environmental and social impact standards, as well as showing public transparency. 

Marco Piñatelli, Founder and General Manager said: “This year, we are focused on improving our production process. We ask farmers to transport their moss to our processing plant in Jauja town while it is still wet, where our specialised machinery helps maintain optimum quality. The moss is placed carefully on drying platforms before being cleaned of any impurities, and arranged and packed according to the fibre size specified by the client in question. We then send it to Callao Port in Lima for shipping.

“We approached Shared Interest for finance so that we can pay the farmers for their moss on delivery to our factory. To meet with demand, we also need to acquire larger stock levels and provide buyers with larger size bags depending on their specifications. 

“The loan has also given us the opportunity to include more remote communities within our supply chain.” 

Marco concluded: “We know this alliance is going to keep going for the following years because there are many more goals to achieve. Since becoming a B Corp, our commitment is not only financial but social and environmental, a characteristic that we have in common with Shared Interest, making them the best organisation we could ask for help to reach all our goals.”

Impact of Covid-19

Speaking in July 2020, Regional Manager for Latin America, Paul Sablich said: “When the quarantine started in Peru, Inka Moss suspended operations completely. Once they received authorisation from the Ministry of Production, and subsequently received their transit permit, they began working closely with local communities to co-ordinate safe collection of moss. They carried out extensive research and consultation into how to manage this intricate process in a way that is Covid-secure. So far, Inka Moss has invested almost 3,000 US Dollars, into preventative measures, which include personal protective equipment for communities. 

“Out of the 22 communities Inka Moss supports, six have entry protocols in place and five more are working on them. Community patrols monitor entry of people and vehicles into these areas. Some communities have, however, preferred to wait a little longer as there is fear of spreading the virus. Inka Moss remains in close contact with them, and has assured harvesters that once protocols are in place, they will be able to collect the moss. 

“It has been a challenging time for Inka Moss, as their priorities remain in protecting the growth of the moss, as well as ensuring the safety of harvesters during the pandemic. When lockdown started, they has just enough moss to keep production running. In the meantime, the government issued specific regulations for the prevention and control of Covid-19 in remote communities.” 

As Inka Moss’ Internal Consultant Juanjo Ladines Moya explains: “Understandably, harvesters are very concerned about their income. The winter frost season has started and is causing havoc in their potato plantations. Inka Moss is looking for ways to support them with this.”

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GENDER EQUALITY: FOR A PEACEFUL, PROSPEROUS AND SUSTAINABLE WORLD

In the Andean Region of South America, the challenge of growing agricultural production, while conserving or improving the natural environment, is becoming increasingly important. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Programme Analyst Catherine Wong said: “The situation is even more difficult for women living in the rural communities. They have faced significant hardships compared to male agricultural producers.” 

In the high Andes, women are traditionally responsible for livestock management as well as looking after their household.
Historically, the challenging altitudes and landscapes are limiting in terms of income opportunities.

Many rural Andean communities rely on potato farming and some are now learning about sustainable sphagnum moss harvesting thanks to support from social enterprise, Inka Moss.

Inka Moss offers training so that potato farmers can learn how to supplement their income by collecting moss in a way that complements the natural ecosystem. They purchase the moss at a fair price and sell it internationally for various uses including in horticulture, to add nutrients to soil. The organisation became a certified B Corp in 2017 and Shared Interest first provided finance that same year, to help pay farmers when the moss is harvested.

Working with the moss provides farmers with a 27% increase in their annual income. Two thirds of Inka Moss harvesters are women and this additional employment makes a huge difference to families, meaning that fewer men migrate to the city for work and women are able to earn their own money alongside caring for their livestock.

Inka Moss Impact Manager Juanjo said: “It allows for Andean families to thrive together in their communities and protect
the ecosystem sustainably, using their natural resources and making sure that cultures and traditions are not lost.

“Traditionally in the Andean region, women play more of a household role while the men work in the fields. Women tend to take care of the house and the children as well as looking after the cattle.

“The women we work with now harvest moss while their cattle are grazing, allowing them to earn an income paid directly to them. This has started a shift within households as women are bringing money to the table and so seen as more of an equal partner.”

Bertha Mendoza Ramos is a moss collector and lives with her husband and two sons in a small rural village called
Tambillio. It takes approximately two hours to walk to the area where moss is currently harvested. Sometimes the
journey is made by horse and can be completed in less than an hour.

Bertha said: “I have been working with the moss for five years. The community as a whole has definitely changed a lot thanks
to this additional economic support.

“Working with the moss allows me to have the money to buy groceries for the family, it also helps me to buy proper clothing and shoes for my children. The support has been life-changing.

“The main change I see right now compared to the past is that we can support ourselves economically to cover all of my family’s needs. In the past, it was difficult and I wasn’t able to do this.

Bertha’s niece, Fiorella Anchiraico Montalvo, is also a moss harvester. She began collecting moss eight years ago to earn an income to support her family.

She said: “The main change I have seen in the community is that the children can now get the proper food that they need to be healthy and that the community as a whole has an additional source of income to cover the needs we have.

“The moss is something that is helping me economically because it allows me to afford the purchase of food products and
also clothing. I no longer struggle to buy the food that my family requires.” 

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