Chile's fruit industry lacks 33% of the labor it needs -

Chile's fruit industry lacks 33% of the labor it needs

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Chile's fruit industry lacks 33% of the labor it needs

Chilean fruit union Fedefruta says urbanization has led to a labor force gap for the coming harvest, spurring a need for change in the country's labor laws.

Speaking at a press conference in Santiago yesterday, Fedefruta president Antonio Walker said the industry's continued growth would need a greater presence of foreign workers.

Antonio Walker

"We believe we are lacking a third of the people we need to carry out the next harvest, which is a product of the immigration from the countryside to the city," he said.

"For renewal people probably will need labor from other countries, but today in accordance with the projections we have for the 2011-12 season, we don't seeing there being enough people for the harvest.

"We believe we need to open the debate about how we can incorporate labor from other countries - one thing is the labor laws which don’t allow you to bring in employees of more than 15% of our workers, so we have to see how we can arrange the issue."

Walker also sought to debunk the idea that farmers were making the switch to construction jobs, saying farm work in the sun was losing out to the comfortable air conditioning of shopping centers.

He also highlighted other ways to incentivize workers to move to rural Chile from the cities or other countries.

"It’s also an issue of education, housing, health. How are we going to attend to all of these workers who come from different parts?  The important thing is that in Chile there is work, and every day there is better quality of employment in rural areas.

"We have made calls to improve the quality of employment, to dignify the quality of employment, to have better public transport, to have better restrooms, have better canteens and better treatment."

Fedefruta general manager Juan Carlos Sepulveda told the exchange rate was also causing difficulties for the industry, claiming it resulted in a reducation in the growth rate from 8% in 2001-2004 to 3.2% in 2006-2010.

"We’d like to see that our 300,000 hectares of planted area reach 400,000 or 500,000, but with this type of profitability, with this type of exchange rate, we’re not going to achieve that," he said.

"At the moment there are a lot of affected orchards, old orchards that have reduced in the rate of production, and a lot of the time there aren’t the resources for a renewal of orchards, but we are optimists - there There are markets for our fruits, we have good quality, good weather here, and specialized people."

Growth forecast 2011

In his talk Walker pointed to the changing composition of fruit categories in Chile, as well as the booming markets of Latin America and Asia.

"Cherries in the year 2000 represented 1.7% of fruit exports and this year it will represent 6.5% of fruit exports. What has happened with this species is that it's passed to fourth place in importance, which is quite surprising I think - this species has a great future. This is due to the opening of the Chinese market.

"The other surprise of the season was blueberries. In the year 2000 we exported US$30 million in blueberries and now we are exporting US$305 million, going from 2.2% to 8.7%. What’s happening with this species puts it in the third place of importance.

Antonio Walker and Juan Carlos Sepulveda

"So after table grapes and apples, we have blueberries in third place and cherries in fourth place. The composition of species of exports from Chile is changing."

For the total fruit category, Fedefruta forecasts a 4% year-on-year increase in freight on board (FOB) returns to US$3.639 billion, or the equivalent of a 7.4% rise in volumes to 2.65 billion metric tons (MT).

In terms of FOB values, several fruits showed growth including plums (1%), pears (6%), avocadoes (16%), apricots (7%), kiwifruit (6%), blueberries (17%), cherries (35%), walnuts (15%) and almonds (2%).

The FOB values of other fruits are expected to fall this year, including grapes (-5%), peaches (-13%), nectarines (-6%), raspberries (-39%), lemons (-11%) and mandarins (-8%).

Chile's Association of Exporters (ASOEX) has also released its outlook for the 2011-12 season, in agreement with Walker's ambitions in 'our neighborhood' Latin America and Asia.

In a release, ASOEX said the issue of competition would be an important one, so Chile would need to take note of how countries like New Zealand, South Africa and Brazil promoted themselves in other markets. The association also pointed to the increased investment in irrigation infrastructure and pest control in Peru.

Related story: Chile's fresh fruit exports jump, U.S. arrivals down

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