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Case study - inka moss

Inka Moss is a social enterprise and certified B-Corp, dedicated to the production and export of sphagnum moss. It was formed in 2010, by Founder Marco Piñatelli and currently operates with 20 employees (50% women) and 562 harvesters.

The organisation works with 38 communities in the Andean highlands to help them earn a living from natural resources. They do this by offering training to rural potato farmers, giving them the opportunity to supplement their income by collecting moss in a way that complements the ecosystem. They purchase the moss at a fair price and sell it internationally for various uses including in horticulture, to add nutrients to soil. Two thirds of Inka Moss harvesters are women and this additional income makes a huge difference to families, who are now earning 27% more per year. As a result, fewer men migrate to the city looking for work and women are able to earn their own money alongside caring for their livestock.

The moss grows at high altitudes, all year round, and is collected by the local communities living amidst challenging climatic conditions. Traditionally, people in the region would burn the moss in order to clear the area for planting traditional crops such as potatoes. This practice not only deprived them of an additional and more profitable source of income, it also degraded the soil, destroying its natural nutrients and making it infertile after two or three harvests. The moss is a protected natural resource in Peru and cannot be harvested without permission from the regional government. With the help of social enterprises such as Inka Moss, communities are now learning that the spongy vegetation can earn them an income provided it can be sustainably harvested. 

Dionicio (pictured right) is the Supply Chain Manager at Inka Moss. A native and former President of the Huaychula community, he has been working with Inka Moss since the beginning. Alongside this, he plants and harvests crops - mainly for his family’s own consumption. 

He said: “There have definitely been some big, big changes since I started working as part of Inka Moss. …….Those big changes that were for myself or my children and for my family as a whole have been quite positive, specifically because now my children are able to actually get a proper education, which was not possible in the past, and that is one of the main factors.”

“I still remember that there were some houses built with very basic materials. In some cases, they didn't even have doors or windows. But, they didn’t have the income to get anything different from that. Nowadays if you go and visit the same houses, they have changed. In some cases, the structures are built with better materials.”

There is no doubt that climate change is having a complex and fundamental impact on the moss harvesters, changing seasons in a region which already experiences erratic weather patterns, causing challenging working conditions. Harvesting during wet weather is more labour intensive, especially when the moss is transported manually. Ideally, the harvesters want the moss to dry naturally as a dry sack weighs around 20kg, but when wet can weigh up to 60kg. 

Shared Interest first provided finance to Inka Moss in 2017 when we gave them a stock facility. Marco Piñatelli said: “We approached Shared Interest for finance so that we can pay the farmers for their moss on delivery to our factory. To meet with demand, we also need to acquire larger stock levels and provide buyers with larger size bags depending on their specifications. The loan will also give us the opportunity to include more remote communities within our supply chain.”

Since this initial facility, Inka Moss have increased the number of producers they work with from 397 to 562, and the number of direct beneficiaries from 1,985 to 2,810.

Fiorella Anchiraico Montalvo

Fiorella Anchiraico Montalvo is from the Tambillo region of Peru in the province Huamanga. She began collecting moss eight years ago to earn an income to support her family. 

She said: “The main change I have seen in the community is that the children can now get the proper food that they need to be healthy, and that the community as a whole has an additional source of income to cover the needs we have.”

Since working with Inka Moss, Fiorella told us: “The moss is something that is helping me economically because it allows me to afford the purchase of food products and also clothing. I no longer struggle to buy the food that my family requires.”

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