Peru's leading pomegranate exporter is upbeat about the season ahead as harvests start this month, and is hopeful that market access negotiations with U.S. authorities will bear fruit.
In February, representatives from the National Agricultural Health Service of Peru (Senasa) and the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) met to discuss market access for the fruit, along with figs, cherimoyas and papayas.
Agricola Athos general manager Jorge Checa told www.freshfruitportal.com that while Europe was the main market for pomegranates, industry association ProGranada was working on opening access in the U.S. and parts of Asia.
"Production is in the counterseason between March and June when the Northern Hemisphere doesn’t have pomegranates. We have some competition though with pomegranates in storage from California or Israel from January and February, but generally Peru enters an empty market," Checa told www.freshfruitportal.com during Fruit Logistica in Berlin.
"Peru has always suffered from two factors that limit the industry: one is logistical and the other is phytosanitary, but as once you resolve one, you start to find a solution for the other, and once these issues are solved Peru will be able to show all its potential.
"The Peruvian coast is prodigious for production but also it has a strong presence of pests, so we have to work hand in hand with Senasa for the opening of new markets."
The executive added 90% of pomegranate shipments were sent by seafreight, with the remainder exported by airfreight. Most of the fruit is grown in the region of Ica, which while having ideal conditions for production, still has to overcome challenges of water stress.
"More than 70% of the people live on the Peruvian coast, but we only have 3% of the country's water. Projects need to be undertaken to divert water from the Amazon or the Andes to the coast," he said.
"But we are are preparing for a good season and the fruit is growing well. I don’t want to generalize, but the weather in Peru is very uniform; the beauty it has is the predictability of the coast, the lack of rain, that this gives a consistency that is greater than in the likes of South Africa or Chile."
He highlights the country's produce industry also functions in a very different way to other countries, with a greater presence of vertically-integrated companies that managing everything from production through to sales.
"Pomegranates are still an incipient product in Peru, however as everyone knows, in Peru there is a strong participation of large corporates in agriculture, and one characteristic is that is that when Peru touches a product, very rapid growth is seen.
However, he clarifies that under current market conditions, pomegranate demand would not be able to support the kind of growth seen in avocado and grape exports.
When asked about the increasing trend of companies processing the fruit to sell value-added arils, Checa did not indicate Athos would be joining that market.
"Most of the fruit is shipped whole and I think this will be the trend because with the arils it's a time bomb; from the moment that you open the pomegranate to take out the arils, the shelf life is very short."
In addition to Ica, Athos also has production in Nepeña, Caraz and Nazca, with diversification into other crops such as asparagus, blueberries and figs.