Peru reaps rewards of defying conventions, says expert

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Peru reaps rewards of defying conventions, says expert

Peru has successfully managed to grow fruit in regions where the textbooks said it wasn't possible, but the country still has a long way to go to face the challenges ahead.

Inform@cción president Fernando Cillóniz

Inform@cción president Fernando Cillóniz has told Peru's fruit industry has great opportunities in the U.S., Europe and Asia, but will need to rise to the tasks of food safety laws and working in a united way.

"The great weakness of the Peruvian fruit industry is to do with unions, as we don't have an ASOEX (Association of Fruit Exporters) or a Fedefruta with the same forcefulness as Chile," he says.

"I think sanitarily we are much weaker than Chile and I think there is still much to do in terms of efficiency. Chile is much more efficient in kilos per person, for example.

"The weather is a strength. The weather of the Peruvian coast is unique. We do not and never have had to go through what was just lived out in Copiapó (northern Chile), which has been a disaster, so that's an interesting strength."

Surprising plantations and food quality favoritism

Cillóniz says with a wide range of microclimates, Peru not only grows a diverse amount of horticultural products but grows them in unexpected places.

"In theory there should not be grapes in the tropics as it's taught in universities they grow in temperate climates, but a surprise has appeared in Piura and everything we were taught does not apply," he says.

"It was a Chilean who had a nursery in Peru that said the same thing with respect to blueberries in Peru, that blueberries need cold and acidic soils and therefore Peru could not grow them.

"Then one day he saw a plant and now the production is great, just like grapes. It could be exported in the window that all the world wants from September to October."

But surprises can often come from markets too in terms of what is popular, while the industry needs to mitigate the chances of food safety shocks too.

Photo: Camposol

"Today the star products are grapes and avocadoes but things change. Asparagus and mangoes are not growing as much, for example. We see that citrus fruits are growing a lot, and pomegranates and blueberries in an incipient way.

"In terms of (food) security we have already taken steps and I think we have succeeded. There will be struggles and obstacles but so far it's working. I see this with the opening of the North American market for Peruvian avocadoes without quarantine treatment, and we have received a lot of calls from excited North American avocado importers who want to participate."

Cillóniz is critical of U.S. favoritism towards local products when it comes to quality issues, but believes Peru can adapt to the requirements of the new Food Safety Modernization Act.

"We know that the pressure and responsibility is passed on to producers and exporters, and I always complain about how tolerant the U.S. market is with the quality of local fruit, and so demanding with the quality of imported fruit.

"They really treat us differently. The same shape, color, all issues of quality for domestic fruit are much more relaxed, and this is something we have already learned."

Bridging gaps with Chile

The market researcher says Peru's relationship with Chile is such that government promotion agency ProChile invited him to China to discuss a common front between the two countries.

"Together as Peruvians and Chileans we have visited Chinese clients to supply them as a joint force, as a united supplier," he says.

"It (Chile) supplies grapes from October until April, which is when Peru doesn't produce, and it comes from Peru before and after Chile - today what has happened with avocadoes opens an enormous front for 12 months; something which hasn't happened with grapes that go from October to May and that's not the whole year, but maybe with Piura it could be the whole year.

"So I like it a lot that Verfrut is investing and perhaps will be the main grape producer in Peru, a Chilean company, in a few years."

He says the process of formalizaing Chile-Peru supplier arrangements has already started, but it's more to do with an image than what has actually been done.

"I don't have doubts, nor questions, that we are partners and are growing at an accelerated rate. I believe in the future there will be a lot more Chilean investment in production and direct exports, in contrast to what has happened in the past which has been a lot of Chilean participation in consulting."

Cillóniz is careful to point out Peru is not necessarily having the 'boom' Chile witnessed in the 70's and 80's, as new opportunities have changed and Chile too can continue on the growth path.

Brand Peru

"Chile didn't have what the world has now in the case of China and India; Chile didn't have what the world has now in terms of the awareness of the North American governments of obesity problems, for example.

"Chile had never seen this moment when the food culture is changing and kids in U.S. schools are replacing hamburgers and french fries with fruit and vegetables."

He says Peru is also following Chile's lead in promoting the country's brand, but the effect is indirect as an official Peruvian food brand is still needed.

The urban migration question

Like the rest of the world Peru cannot escape the labor scarcity problem, even though it does have higher availability of labor with lower costs.

"Peru like Chile is growing in an integrated way, growing in construction, trade, industry, tourism, and so young people go to the city. This process is underway and it's a global process," he says.

"In Peru this process is real as all the time we are employing more young people in the cities and transfering them in buses, in contrast to the past when there were people who lived in the country. It's more expensive but that's the challenge of efficiency.

"In Peru there is still a lot of agriculture that is poor and there are generally older farmers who were the beneficiaries of land reform, have aged, and have children who do not want to work on the farm.

"They are already selling these parcels, and these parcels become fields with technical irrigation and all the machinery, so there's going to be an impressive increase in Peruvian agro productivity because we are transforming small-scale agriculture into a businesslike competitive agriculture. This will reduce the pressure on labor because it will be more mechanized, and there is the challenge - to mechanize operations."

Related story: The promise and priorities of Peruvian horticulture

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