PPK: A snapshot of Peru's next president
Update: Since this story was written under the headline describing him as the "presumed potential president", PPK has won the final vote count by the slimmest of margins.
At the time of writing, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) is ahead in the vote count for Peru's "too close to call" presidential election yesterday. The leader of the center-right Peruvians for Change party has run a tight race with Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori. But who is PPK, and what would his presidency mean for one of the world's fastest emerging produce export nations?
Peru. Whether it's in table grapes, avocados or more recently, blueberries, in the produce industry it's a country that has become synonymous with early, high-quality fruit that has shaken up international markets and the traditional lines of competition.
The country will also play host to the International Pepper Conference in just over a week's time, while large-scale irrigation projects continue to attract global interest as desert regions are converted into lush production zones courtesy of the channeling of Amazon tributaries.
Meanwhile, Peru's existing government organizations continue to promote a proliferation of smallholder farm export projects ranging from organic bananas to pineapples to passionfruit.
These are all facts which were unlikely to cross the mind of most voters at the ballot box over the weekend, but with a presidential term of five years, who they choose as leader will have far-reaching effects not just for the Peruvian countryside but supermarket shelves from Beijing to Berlin to Boston.
With 91% of the votes counted, PPK is now in the lead at 50.32%. It's a figure that's still too close to call, but what would his election mean? What is his agricultural policy?
Firstly, a bit of context. Agri-export growth has been substantial during the last five years with Ollanta Humala in power. Shipments have more than doubled for fruit and nut exports over the period to reach US$1.79 billion last year.
For vegetables, roots and tubers, exports have gone up by 27% to US$637.2 million.
Infrastructure investment has boomed too. During Humala's presidency there have been 3.5 times more roads paved than in the entire history of the republic, and the iconic Olmos mega-irrigation project has come online too.
PPK intends for this trend to continue and has slated US$70 billion for infrastructure mega-projects, with many of them focused on construction, the improvement and expansion of highways and airports, as well as projects aimed at reducing transport congestion including improvements to the Lima metro line and the construction of a Huacho-Lima-Ica commuter train.
The former World Bank economist plans to create a system to measure available water resources, and he also plans to establish the Sierra Azul Program (Blue Sierra Program) to invest in water capture projects in the high parts of basins, including dams, mini-reservoirs, infiltration trenches and the rehabilitation of waterways.
The 77-year-old emphasizes it should not be possible that some parts of the country are in drought when for five months of the year there is an abundance of water that ends up in the Pacific Basin. He has described this as a "waste that cannot be allowed". He also does not want these resources to only go to huge reservoirs for large-scale agriculture, but to smallholder farmers as well.
By 2021, he aims to ensure irrigation for 500,000 hectares in the Sierra region and to rehabilitate 100,000 hectares of water platforms.
Like Humala before him, PPK sees agriculture as a means to reduce poverty and create jobs, which he says requires an increase in productivity and the quality of production. One way that he differs from his predecessor, and from Keiko Fujimori, is his heavy emphasis on seed development and breeding.
PPK has lamented that only 14% of the crops grown in Peru come from certified seeds, and he plans to kick-start a seed breeding program designed to conserve and improve the genetic diversity of Peruvian crops, starting with the provision of improved corn and potato seeds.
Fujimori has attacked PPK over his position on seeds, labeling him as pro-GMO while claiming she would extend the country's moratorium on genetically modified foods. In all practicality however, the moratorium is set for a 10-year period so it would not be easy for the new president to reverse it.
There are other issues that cannot be left out of any analysis of Peru's situation. Despite the economic growth the country has experienced, Peru has been beset by social conflicts in more remote parts of the country, and a dependency on mining during a period of lower metal prices also puts strain on regional economies. Throughout the whole nation, security has been a concern as well.
The current government has sought to tackle illegal mining, and has also stamped out almost one hundred thousand hectares of coca leaf-producing land which has been replaced with other crops, but despite all his initiative Humala still has a low approval rating.
The government has also lacked consistency in its cabinet, with four people holding the title of Agriculture Minister during Humala's reign. The produce industry will hope PPK, if elected, will choose the right man or woman for the job on the first attempt.