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New Zealand gives $500,000 for Peruvian project


New Zealand gives $500,000 for Peruvian project

A New Zealand project 4,000 metres up in the Andes is helping communities get access to online educational, business and agricultural information.

Logan Muller from the UNITEC Centre for Information Technology Research (CITRUS) is leading the project, which will introduce the internet into remote agricultural areas in Peru via two-way satellite technology. Government aid agency NZAID is funding the initiative to the tune of $500,000.

Mr Muller says the three communities, Antabamba, Pampas and Colcabamba - which have a combined population of about 50,000 people - are among the poorest in Peru. "They are immensely grateful for this project - they can't believe people all the way from New Zealand are helping them."

The aim is to provide the tools and training to connect the towns to exisiting agricultural advice, online education resources as well as business initiatives and social support systems in education, health and governance. "We're establishing the information centres in the town centres so that schools can use them in the mornings, farmers and producers in the afternoons and community groups in the evenings. It is very much a community project"

It takes 10 hours by treacherous mountain roads to reach the towns from the nearest inland airport and Mr Muller says their isolation has disadvantaged them even more. "The price of one of their main revenue sources - alpaca wool - dropped to a fifteenth of its selling price a few years ago, despite an increasing world market, because they are at the mercy of the market buyers who visit very seldomly. They have to accept whatever they are offered by the buyers who take advantage of their remoteness.

"These information centres will allow them to access the latest techniques and also market information, so that they can have more control over the sale and processing of their produce. We're also providing them with the tools and training to add value to the raw material. All this has been at their request. Simply carding, spinning and knitting the Alpaca fibre into a scarf increases their present return by 3000%."

Eleven Peruvian organisations are also involved in the project which covers business advice, tourism, education, potato and wool production, and processing and technical training. Mr Muller says his role is mainly as a facilitator. "We listened to the communities and drew on the expertise of the different Peruvian organisations to pull it all together.

"About 65% of the New Zealand Aid money is being spent on equipment, but training is vital to build the capacity of these communities to maintain themselves. NZ schools such as Wentworth College are participating by 'adopting a school' and are sending educational resources to the schools in the communities. It has been a very humbling experience."

He believes the Peruvian communities will make the project a long-term success. "They are extremely well organised and their communities are very functional social systems because they have common goals, help each other and work well together. We could learn a lot from them in this regard.

The Embassy of Peru in New Zealand encouraged this idea since tts beginning. The objective of this project coincides with the main priority of the Government of the President Alejandro Toledo - alleviation of poverty. The establishment of Centres of Information and Development in Peru has received a very good reception by several Peruvian agencies and rural communities involved in it.

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