Peru tackling local mango issues to bolster presence in Asia, U.S.
While seasonality is always hanging over any fruit producer, Peru's mango industry is particularly susceptible compared to its counterparts in Ecuador and Brazil. Made up of a plethora of small players, coordination and technology access are difficult, but the industry is making headway in new markets. At www.freshfruitportal.com we speak with Association of Peruvian Mango Producers and Exporters (APEM) manager Juan Carlos Rivera, who says the industry still has issues to get on top of at home.
When asked about why Peru's mango exports are down this season, Rivera is quick to point out the situation is nothing out of the ordinary and shipments are going as planned; after oversupply pushed down prices in previous seasons, lower volumes could be in the best interests of growers anyway.
While associations such as APEM are able to predict season forecasts and provide information, concerted mobilization is difficult with so many independent growers at the mercy of the weather.
"Peru produces the Kent variety and we haven't yet learned to manage the physiology of the fruit like they have in other countries like Brazil for example, where there is a lot of management to determine when mangoes grow and affecting flowering patterns," says Rivera.
"In Peru we can’t do that, not because we don’t have the technology, but because of the large number of producers. We have around 14,500 growers of export mangoes, and per person it comes to around 1.3 or 1.4 hectares per grower, so for them it is difficult to engage in technology transfer and apply adequate measures for physiological management.
"It's not like in Ecuador where you have just 600 producers."
He says 2010 volumes were high due to the amount of cold weather, but climatic conditions in 2011 were not conducive to fruit flowering. If the country were in the same industry position as the likes of its South American competitors, this could have been averted to an extent.
Rivera highlights the country's largest horticultural exporter Camposol has been able to apply plant management and has received good results from it, while many other larger companies are now doing the same.
But for the majority of growers this is not possible given their financial means, which has led APEM to push for better coordination and technology sharing.
"Part of that is the information that we deliver to the industry so that growers can make better decisions, and we’ve also formed the Regional Mango Council to help coordinate growers," he says.
"We also want to form clusters of producers who can coordinate and share together, so that they don’t depend so much on the weather. We are always nervous because you just don’t know what might happen."
As Peru's mango industry improves its circumstances on the ground, there is much to be gained abroad. The vast majority of the country's mangoes are currently exported to Europe and the U.S., but APEM is seeking other avenues.
"We have had a good performance in Japan which was the most recent market to open for us. In 2009-10 we shipped just 60 (metric) tons, we did 600 (metric) tons last year and in the third year we expect to send 1,200 (metric) tons," says Rivera.
"It’s different in China, which has been open for longer for us but we just ship around 400 tons. The reason for that is that the shipping transit time to China is too much – it takes more than four weeks to send mangoes there.
"We are looking for a shipping line that can do it faster but at the moment there isn’t any quicker service, and I assure you that if we could get mangoes to China in three weeks or less, the biggest market for Peruvian mangoes would be China."
Rivera believes Peru has the capacity to compete with Australian and the Filipino mangoes in Asia, even though it is further away.
"In the case of the Philippines they have got protocols opened so competition with them is very strong.
"We are not worried about Australia though as they don’t have the phytosanitary protocols in place that we do. They still have a presence but they don’t have the protocols."
In the Americas, Peru also has access to Mexico but has not made much progress to date on that front, while APEM is pushing for new protocols with the U.S.
"Currently the U.S. only allows mangoes with sizes up to 650 grams, but in Peru we grow mangoes that are larger up to 750 grams, so we are requesting the U.S. to allow this size in.
"To do that we are conducting studies and negotiations, but that takes time - it's not as if you can just say, ‘please let our bigger mangoes in’."
Growing advantages and setbacks
Rivera highlights the climate in the main growing region of Piura is ideal for mangoes and the quality is very good.
"In terms of quality our mangoes have a good taste and a good aroma."
Good conditions don't necessarily mean good farming practices however, with APEM detecting some unripe export mangoes during inspections in December.
"Ripening standards are very important, and some of the issues we’ve had recently have had to do with prices.
"Sometimes market prices are very good, so to catch those prices growers speed up their harvests prematurely, and what you get is a green mango.
"We are very concerned about this and it is an issue of conscience. It is something that not just APEM is working on, but the local government is involved too."
Meanwhile, growers are planting small volumes of new varieties, breaking away from the dominance of Kent mangoes and the existing crop of Haden and Tommy Atkins varieties.
"Mango planting is happening slowly, but it's with the Kent variety. It’s with Ataulfo and varieties like the Manila too, which is what we intend to send to China.
APEM statistics show the industry had shipped an accumulated 333 containers for the 2011-12 season by the end of week 52.
Related stories: Peru sends first mangoes to Japan for the season