Colombia a "paradise" for avocados, says Antioquia leader

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Colombia a "paradise" for avocados, says Antioquia leader

The Colombian department of Antioquia is experiencing "exponential" growth in avocado planting as industry representatives continue to push for access to new markets and better phytosanitary standards. paltas_69588175 _ panorama

Antioquia Avocado Corporation executive director Juan Camilo Ruiz Perez told there were around 3,500ha of Hass avocados in his area, accounting for half the country's crop of the variety.

In 2012-13 the industry had its first export campaign with 30 containers, or 600 metric tons (MT), sent to Europe.

"We will be investing large amounts in in the next two or three years to increase the crop and we are aiming to have 10,000ha in the year 2020," he said.

This potential figure is just under the total avocado surface area registered in key European supplier Spain in 2011, according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) statistics.

The country actually ranks as the world's fifth-largest avocado producer but Ruiz highlighted this was largely in creole or native varieties; practically wild or in backyard gardens.

The move to the Hass cultivar started close to a decade ago in Antioquia and since then the industry has been dominated by small growers with about 2-3ha each, which Ruiz emphasized was the opposite of the situation in Peru.

"One of the issues why we didn't export more in 2013 was because we lacked the phytosanitary requirements recognized by the United States and Europe. If we had have met them we could have easily exported 100 containers," Ruiz said.

"We have a program in 2013 to raise the number of GlobalG.A.P. certified growers from 15 to at least 100.

"We have also started to develop our own research projects because we have some endemic pests, but in general we can say they are not so difficult to control."

He said European access would be easier with these certifications as Colombia holds a free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union. In a bid to gain access to the U.S., national association CORPOHASS was formed to streamline negotiations.

The association will be holding a meeting this Wednesday to elect its executive. Ruiz is currently on the CORPOHASS committee as one of two Antioquian representatives.

"We are negotiating with APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) in the U.S. to make it possible to trade there hopefully from the middle of 2014 - this year we will be negotiating with APHIS for an admissibility protocol."

With the season running from mid-December to mid-April, Ruiz believed it would be possible to enter the U.S. market for the 2014-15 season.

"We also have FTAs with Canada and with South Korea, but I think the main destinations will firstly be Europe and secondly the United States.

"We are still yet to enter South East Asia but that could be about three or four years away."

"Apt" land for avocado cultivation

Ruiz pointed to a recent survey undertaken by government institution Corpoica that identified a total of 700,000ha of apt avocado-growing land in Antioquia.

"I believe Colombia is a paradise for avocado production. Of that I have no doubt," he said.

"We don’t have seasons or very marked characteristics in the climate. Day-to-day we have a temperature of 15-24°C (59-75.2°F) with a good amount of rain; sometimes there's the La Niña phenomenon which generates a lot of rain, but generally it is pretty stable 365 days a year.

"We have good sunlight, and conditions that are more like what the Mexicans have in Michoacan than the climates of Chile or Peru."

As Colombia is in the tropics, he said vegetative growth of trees tended to be quite strong which was a challenge. However, taking lessons from other countries the industry could probably achieve yields of 13-15MT per hectare, in Ruiz's view.

Infrastructure is still lacking but the executive pointed to the country's geographical advantages with access to the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts, meaning exporters could bypass the Panama Canal.

"We are so small right now that we just have a classifier, not even a packer, but we are installing a packhouse right now in a department in the middle of the country called Risaralda.

"We are still very limited but we have the international market in mind."

He added that the international avocado industry would increasingly have Colombia in mind very soon as well.

"I think that very soon Chilean and Peruvian investors - and I can't rule out Mexican investors - could invest in Colombia," he said.





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