A concerted drive to sell more alpaca into the European market is now under way among Peru's leading growers and processors.

Juan Pepper, commercial manager at Michell & Cia SA, a company with nearly 70 years' experience of the trade, explains: "Ours is still a relatively poor country so there is little scope for selling luxury fibre fashion items into the Peruvian home market. Instead we must export."

He estimates current production of alpaca hair to be around 4.5 million kilos a year - 70 per cent of which is still exported in greasy form to be processed at destination. The remainder goes to factories in Peru from which it too will be exported but as ready-made knitwear.

"Of the total crop a little over ten per cent is baby alpaca - a quality which bears very favourable comparison with traditionally more costly fibres such as cashmere." And it is in the production of alpaca for the quality end of the market that Peruvian growers excel says Pepper.

"Currently we are selling our own baby alpaca strongly into the Japanese market but it is less well known in Europe. Following its recent showing at the Expofil trade in Paris Pepper said: "What seemed to appeal to potential customers from the EU was the combination of consistent quality and price stability which fine alpaca offers as an alternative to costly cashmere."

By Sonia Roberts.