A wild Andean blueberry boosts livelihoods in Peru


The Callejón de Conchucos is a set of valleys located above 3 000 metres running along the eastern slope of the Cordillera Blanca in Ancash, Peru. Remote villages and archaeological sites abound here between breathtaking mountainous views.

It is here, high in the Andes, that a wild variety of blueberry, Vaccinium floribundum, grows every year between January and March. To locals, this Andean fruit is known as Numia Mullaca. Its sweet taste has been enjoyed in the area for millennia, but its potential for boosting livelihoods was only discovered recently, thanks to the work of the Mountain Partnership member Rural Agroindustry Network (REDAR).

REDAR is an association that supports rural people who value Andean biodiversity, providing them with technical and commercial skills and support. In 2008, they started the Center for Practical Training for Rural Youth in Agribusiness Management for those without access to higher education. The purpose of the Center is to develop the skills and capacities of adolescents to promote sustainable local development based on local products, traditional knowledge and the culture itself. Each year, 400 youth between 15 and 18 years old from 14 schools are trained free of charge.

The training center includes a module on Andean fruit processing in which local fruits are transformed into juices and jams and then marketed under the umbrella brand "Ally Mishky", the commercial arm of REDAR. One day in 2016, a few students brought some Numia Mullaca into class for the module. At the time, the fruit was mainly used as feed for livestock. That day, however, the berries were made into jam instead, and the product tasted so good that in 2017, Ally Mishky began selling it as Mermelada de Arándano (blueberry marmalade).

Having realized the economic potential of the wild Andean blueberry, after graduating from the center, many former students now go on to supplement their livelihoods by harvesting Numia Mullaca and making jam.

One of those students is Miguel Hidalgo, the son of Francisco Hidalgo, one of the founders of the training center. Francisco is a widower with four children. Three of those children migrated out of the mountains to the city, but Miguel, the youngest, remained with Francisco in their small mountain town of Huari, dedicating himself full-time to helping his father tend to their small family farm.

During the few months when the Numia Mullaca is ripe for the picking, Miguel along with many other small-scale farmers – many of whom are women, aged 18-50, of Quechua ethnicity – make their way up the mountains as early as 4.00 in the morning to collect the berries. Ally Mishky then buys the fruit directly from the farmers at a fair price and processes it into a jam that can be used for cakes and desserts as well as eaten on bread.

Because the Numia Mullaca plant helps the farmers generate extra income, they take care of the plant throughout the entire year and teach their neighbours and community members about the value of the wild fruit, urging them not to destroy or remove the plants.

In 2017, the Mountain Partnership Product (MPP) label was granted to Mermelada de Arándano. Created by the Mountain Partnership together with Slow Food International, the MPP initiative is a certification and labelling scheme based on environmentally and ethically sound value chain approaches. It provides technical and financial support to small-holder mountain producers from developing countries to create enterprises, enhance their marketing skills and boost their livelihoods by improving the value chains of mountain products.

"Having the label has made our brand more recognizable on the market as well as validated the positive impact our venture has had on small-scale rural farmers," says Gabriel Chaman, Project Manager, REDAR. "The product is really appreciated at farmers markets and in organic shops, and selling the jam has increased farmers’ income during the period of the year that the berry grows."

The Numia Mullaca represents an example of how local mountain biodiversity can boost livelihoods. Between 2016 and 2019, Ally Mishky was able to increase the sale price of Mermelada de Arándano by 53 percent, and during that same period, production of the jam increased by 92 percent.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, many that had previously migrated away from the countryside have returned from the urban areas to their rural homes to rejoin their families working on their small rural farms. Although sales of Mermelada de Arándano took a hit in 2020 due to the pandemic, the farmers that forage the wild Andean blueberry have been able to continue earning extra income for their families by selling the product locally.

While the Numia Mullaca has a short growing season and only produces small yields, its peculiarity is precisely what makes it special and marketable. The price it receives on the market is therefore what allows farmers to continue tending the berry, ensuring this piece of biodiversity is protected and this aspect of ancestral knowledge about the Andean fruit is maintained.

Home > mountain-partnership > News