08/23/2011 04:28 pm ET | Updated Oct 24, 2011

Motivated Farmer Makes the Most of His Land

Lucio Mandura Crispin, 40, lives with his wife, Sebastiana Pacce Jora, 36, and their five children, Justa Martina, 14, Celia, 12, Jose , 9 and Vilma, 3. Lucio and his family lived in a small Quechua-speaking community in the barren Peruvian Andes. The Crispin family lives in the community of Fundo Tumpata, Pacchanta, which is about three hours by car from Cusco.

The village is approximately 13,000 feet above sea level. Traditionally the harsh environment could only support potatoes and the wild grasses eaten by alpacas and llamas.

In an interesting twist of fate, Lucio's mother was an original recipient in a now closed Heifer project and she helped him begin his own alpaca herd, attend Heifer training on the genetic improvement of alpacas and diversifying what he raises on his farm. Recently, though, Lucio began to experiment with greenhouses for growing vegetables and fruit, and experimenting with improving the genetic make-up of his alpacas and pastures, both sparked by Heifer's help over the past two years. He also has a biogas unit, in which he uses the Alpaca's manure.

Today, the majority of the family's income comes from selling the improved alpacas and vegetables. Although his wife mainly works at home weaving crafts, and the children attend school, the whole family participates in the housework and works with the alpacas and greenhouse. Despite the rigorous work, the family's overall nutrition has improved. Before Heifer's involvement the family's life was difficult and impoverished. This was back when they were beholden to the alpaca wool factories, before Lucio's experimentation and greenhouse.

As the alpaca wool industry burgeoned in Peru, factories became increasingly interested in only purchasing white alpaca wool since it is easier to dye. Following the market's demand, small alpaca breeders have bred out the darker animals. However, it is the darker animals that have better wool and are more resilient to the harsh conditions of the Andes. Heifer is helping reverse this trend bringing purebred, colored alpacas back into the region.

Now the family has about 100 alpacas, of which 20 are "competition caliber" due to their improved genetic makeup. The rest are still "intermediates," signifying they still have llama-like qualities. The family sells their competition-caliber sires in addition to entering them in contests, because "this is where the money is." Lucio attended trainings from Heifer Peru, which, when combined with his diligent experimentation, a lot of his alpacas are already highly valued. He said, "Now my alpacas are the champions of any competition." One of his alpacas recently won the colored male category at the Ocongate District Alpaca Fair.

These improved alpacas come from better breeding methods, a skill first introduced to Lucio in Heifer workshops. In total, Lucio has learned from Heifer how to improve his alpaca herd through trainings on controlled mating and care for pregnant alpacas, how to improve the cultivated grasses the alpacas eat, and more sustainable grazing methods.

In addition to receiving a pair of colored male alpacas of improved genetic quality from Heifer, Lucio received cultivated grass seeds to improve his pastures. Lucio said, "Now I have separate corrals for the fathers and the offspring," which is a much better and more secure breeding method. He also now has well-marked pastures that he uses on a rotating scheme to graze his alpacas. He is currently making his own investment of $364 to buy his own pasture seeds.

Lucio recalls a time when he only had a few alpacas, which were all from his father: all of poor genetic makeup and poor wool quality. He said, "Before, we had a very low socioeconomic status, and I could only afford shorts, not pants, and sandals made from discarded tires. But now we are better off and have better food."

In stark comparison to Lucio's practically nonexistent production of vegetables and fruits five years ago, through his organic experimentations, he is now also a champion vegetable and fruit grower. He grows an amazing array of produce, such as a variety of lettuces, peppers, carrots, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, celery, tomatoes, melon, strawberries and an assortment of herbs in his greenhouse and has been dabbling in growing pineapple. He has begun building a second greenhouse on his farm.

An example of Lucio's amazing ambition is the biogas experimentations he has conducted over the past two years to improve cooking conditions in his home. He uses his animals' manure in a homemade solar model oven he was inspired by his friend (an engineer) to make. This economical method, which does not require purchasing gas or electricity, is more sustainable and a lot healthier for the family, since the kitchen is no longer filled with smoke.

Now Lucio facilitates workshops on his property to, in a sense, pass on the gift of his knowledge gained through Heifer and his own experiments to his peers so that they, too, can live a better life. Through the support Heifer has provided Lucio, not only have his experiments literally blossomed, but so has his experience-sharing. In this manner, Lucio and his family have increased their own self-sufficiency and quality of life and they have also passed on these gifts to others. He said that he and his wife, both of whom did not complete their educations past third grade, are dedicating their new earnings to the education of their children so that "they will be able to have a better future," just as he hopes who attend his workshops will.