Fighting Hunger with Guinea Pigs

When a Food for the Hungry staff member in Bolivia told Juan Colque that he could raise guinea pigs for food, his first thought was, “This person is crazy.”

Guinea pigs are native to the Andes region of South America, where they’re called “cuyes” in the local language.  Juan was well aware that many keep them as pets. He just hadn’t thought of them as a food source, or as something he could sell at the market to earn income.

But his 9-year-old son Ariel and his younger daughter Yesica, age 3, showed signs of stunted growth resulting from malnutrition. FH staff members had noted that the children were short and underweight for their age.

The children needed more consistent sources of protein, vitamins and minerals. Juan and his wife Carmen knew this because of training FH provided in health and nutrition in their community. They knew they had to make changes, or put their children at risk for poor health for the rest of their lives.

An entrepreneur is born

After FH trained the family about raising guinea pigs, they built a proper enclosure for the animals. They also had to agree to provide specific guinea pig food such as alfalfa, which is grown locally. Once they constructed the pen, FH provided them with three guinea pigs.

Yesica brings a big bundle of alfalfa to feed the guinea pigs.

Carmen also had to learn how to prepare guinea pig meat for healthy meals. They found that it was delicious as well as nourishing.

Breeding guinea pigs took effort. “At the beginning, we did not like the guinea pigs,” Juan says. In time, however, the Colques became such fans that they started promoting guinea pig breeding at local agricultural fairs. Other families in the area are now interested in breeding and selling guinea pigs.

The bigger picture

Some of the Colque family’s guinea pigs

Child sponsorship made it possible for FH to benefit the Colques’ community. But FH doesn’t just work with the children. Their parents benefit as well with training in areas like health, education and agriculture (or whatever best helps the parents increase family income).

And Juan and Carmen aren’t raising guinea pigs in a vacuum. His participation in local agricultural fairs was part of FH’s program. FH helps him make connections with others who raise guinea pigs to sell. Through FH, the Colques can participate in ongoing training where breeders learn new techniques and share their experiences.

FH also helps set up the whole market process so that the breeders have a place to sell their animals. This can include helping link the farmers to restaurants in cities that would serve guinea pigs on the menu (especially to tourists), as well as selling to other families who want to include guinea pig in their diets.

“I also want to provide for my community,” says Carmen. “I’m encouraged to keep going with this entrepreneurship — and to keep eating the meat.”

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