Colombia must boost productivity to complement currency changes, says banana chief

August 31 , 2015

The Colombian Banana Growers' Association (Augura) is aiming to raise the productivity and competitiveness of the sector, in order to keep up with improvements in the farming practices of neighboring countries.

Juan Camilo Restrepo

Juan Camilo Restrepo

During the event Agrofuturo in Medellin, Augura executive president Juan Camilo Restrepo told www.freshfruitportal.com he hoped growers could surpass average yields of 2,200 boxes per hectare, while also using a lower exchange rate to their advantage.

"At the moment the exchange rate is at a level where it hasn't been in years, but we need to complement it with good productivity and competitiveness, while keeping in mind that banana growers around the same latitudes are improving their productivity," he said.

"An exchange rate of 2,900-3,000 [Colombian pesos to the U.S. dollar] hasn't been seen since 2003 in Colombia. We had 10 years of exchange rates that were totally adverse for our industry.

"Facing adversity is what forms the character of industries."

The value of the Colombian peso has fallen steadily since July 24 last year when it was trading at 1,848.5 to the U.S. dollar, with an even sharper fall since May 6, 2015 when the U.S. dollar went from COP2,360 to COP3,075 at the time of writing.

Restrepo said higher productivity will come from improving agronomic practices, including disease control and irrigation.

"We have to work every day to better control Black Sigatoka disease, and to make better use of our resources. We have some challenges in issues of irrigation and drainage, but we are working on that because as long as we have more precision agriculture and a better use of the land, we will be much more productive.

"We are also working on preventing the entry of Fusarium Wilt [Panama Disease] which thankfully hasn't arrived in Latin America. But we are taking preventative measures through monitoring and working with institutions, the national government and other groups involved."

He emphasized the first half of the year was usually less productive than the second semester.

"What's important is that we surpass the 90 million boxes per year that Colombia is exporting, which translates to US$700 million per year.

"We are entering the high volumes but we hope the climatic factors will be favorable for us so we can have a good balance on Dec. 31, 2015."

The interview took place through www.freshfruitportal.com's participation in the Swiss Import Promotion Programme's (SIPPO) buyer mission to the South American country, which was undertaken with support from ProColombia and Germany's Import Promotion Desk (IPD).

Data from Colombia's National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) shows that from January to June this year, the country's banana export volume was down 12% year-on-year at 883,941 metric tons MT, while revenue was 8% lower at 425,589MT.

According to UN Comtrade statistics, Colombia's banana exports rose 8% in 2014 to reach 1.678 million MT, which was down slightly on the 1.7 million MT recorded in 2013.

The U.S. is the leading buyer of Colombian bananas in terms of volume with a 25% share, followed by Belgium (24%), the U.K. (21%), Italy (13%) and Germany (10%).

In terms of export value, Belgium paid the most in total last year at a level of US$190 million, followed by the U.S. (US$186 million), the U.K. (US$174.5 million), Italy (US$102 million) and Germany (US$75 million).

www.freshfruitportal.com

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