Chile's govt promotes drought resistant fruit for arid zones

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Chile's govt promotes drought resistant fruit for arid zones

Chile's Agricultural Innovation Foundation (FIA) has encouraged farmers in the arid Norte Chico zone to grow fruit species that require less water like pomegranates, figs, dragon fruit and prickly pears.

The FIA is funding a study into the viability of the different fruits in the zone, which spans the Atacama and Coquimbo regions, with the aim of reducing water consumption by between 30% and 70%.

Prickly Pear

Norte Chico is a significant contributor to Chile's fruit exports but 66% of its farmland is dedicated to table grapes, citrus fruits and avocadoes.

The FIA says pressurizing water adds higher energy costs in comparison to the study's proposed non-traditional crops, which also includes date palms and the Andean 'tamarillo' or 'tree tomato'.

The study's first results pointed out while these fruits may have low consumption now, they were highly valued in niche markets and could be an interesting alternative for Chile.

"If a severe drought occurs in one year these species do not produce fruit during that season but they survive without problems, while a fruit tree with high water consumption, in addition to not producing fruit, can be seriously affected and can run the risk of definitively losing plants and the work of years," said project director Nicolas Franck.

Tamarillo. Photo: Delicias Pre-Hispanicas

The fruit would be primarily focused towards U.S. and European consumers, although Chile would find a significant advantage with its pomegranate season window for Korea as well.

Figs would likely be targetted towards the U.K. market and the Mexican community in the U.S. In terms of prickly pears, Mexico is the world's largest consumer and Italy has the highest exports, but Chile and Israel are the only countries that produce the fruit in winter and summer.

The tamarillo is a native species to the Andes region of Peru and Colombia, and is most often used in salads, stews, sauces, jams and preserves. New Zealand is currently the world's largest producer of the fruit.

The dragon fruit is native to sub-tropical Mexico, Central and South America, with flesh that has a similar taste to kiwifruit.

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