Image copyright Getty Images Image caption A sunbather catches some rays as the sun sets in Cajamarca, Bolivia
A three-month investigation has shown that harsh ultraviolet radiation is being used as a weapon against cattle in Bolivia’s highlands.
The “sun-down” campaign, begun by one village in Pucallpa in 2017, has been strengthened by up to 50 specialists including farmers, veterinarians and scientists.
Pastoralists blamed excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation that seeps from heat-absorbing volcanic ash.
During summer, that hits the pastoral regions so hard they say the “sun isn’t normal any more”.
Aspens are turning brilliant shades of gold and orange, and the mountains are drying out.
The heat can be up to 29C (85F) in some areas, causing a drastic shortage of water and impacting on maize, potatoes and cereal crops.
Eco-agriculture or nature farming is increasingly under threat, meaning livestock can be short of food, water and pasture.
No method of production is safe from the solar rays.
Cattle and sheep
On a visit to Pucallpa, Mina Engildo, from Pananchin Confersa Charcoi, or Farm-Strong Cities, told DW that the villagers were protecting their livelihoods and loved ones from the harmful effects of sunlight.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The value of a cow is estimated to be between $40,000 and $70,000
Cattle are viewed as currency in the densely-populated region. They are the mainstay of the population.
The villages are clear about the danger: the value of a cow in the area can be $40,000 or more, depending on the quality.
Irene Cardenas, from El Alto Cajamarca, explains that aspens thrive on sun and are “huge money-makers” and “very useful for the village”.
“There’s also the problem of conserving the habitat for livestock in this part of the country, when you find animals dying and big farm animals in very poor health, we have to take action,” she says.
The villagers take matters into their own hands and have established small systems of shade for horses, donkeys and cattle.
Farm-strong cities protect habitat for big animals
However, those methods of protecting vegetation are not without cost.
Gibbons, deer and goats are killed, and 1,800 cattle have been killed by the netting but the impact has been dramatic – and costly.
The village self-sufficiency campaign at a cost of between $300,000 and $400,000 has replaced cows and sheep with crops that survive better.
The country’s livestock development and health minister, José Silva de la Rua, says the campaign has been extremely effective in reducing the number of cattle deaths in the highlands.
“Since August last year we have been harvesting milk to avoid the export of insufficient quantities,” he says.
“As a result, we have also used the income to set up an emergency grain reserve fund, which will allow us to ensure that the affected areas will have a sufficient grain supply throughout the rainy season.”
Conflict between herdsmen and farmers
More than half of cattle in central Bolivia are exported, driven by market values for milk and meat.
The entire country, particularly the highlands, is hugely dependent on agriculture – the traditional livelihood for almost three-quarters of the population – and animal health is closely intertwined with it.
Even conflict between herdsmen and farmers can have a devastating effect.
Delores Rodela, head of the Cajamarca regional veterinary service, explains that the detection of infections caused by UV radiation is key.
The livestock health control programme is examining how the population can be protected.
“Cattle slaughter should be controlled as far as possible with dogs and horses, and it’s also very important to protect stray animals, which can cause problems,” Ms Rodela says.