Colombian golden berry exporters may be able to improve their opportunities in the budding U.S. market thanks to initiatives such as a non-fruit fly host project, new cold storage facilities for seafreight, and the release of new varieties.
Carlos Lozano of the Colombian Uchuva Committee - 'uchuva' being one of many names for the fruit including physalis, Cape gooseberry and aguaymanto - tells www.freshfruitportal.com preliminary studies show the fruit is unlikely to be a host commodity for the Mediterranean fruit fly.
"Research has been done in conjunction with ICA (Colombian Agricultural Institute) and APHIS (U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) showing that golden berries are not a host of Ceratitis Capitata, or the Mediterranean fruit fly," Lozano says.
"The results from inspections that have been done in the [Bogota] airport for going to the U.S. since 2015 help to corroborate that golden berries are not a host of this pest.
"We are working with APHIS and ICA to see if we’ll manage to meet the protocol and show the fruit is not a host, and that would help our entry into the United States."
But why is this relevant?
Colombian golden berry exporters have been able to ship their fruit to the U.S. with cold treatment since 2002, however the process is costly, cuts shelf life by the 14 days required for the treatment, and is limited to Atlanta as the sole port of entry.
Last year, this all changed for growers in the departments of Boyaca and Cundinamarca who have pest-free properties at 2,200 meters above sea level or higher.
The impacts have been felt very quickly. Lozano says shipments to Colombia have risen from US$147,000 in 2013 to US$500,000 last year, and he expects U.S.-bound exports could hit the US$1 million mark in 2016.
To put these figures in context, he mentions the country exported US$30 million worth of the fruit - or a volume of 6,000 metric tons (MT) - last year, with the U.S. vastly overshadowed by a predominant export focus on Europe.
However, the U.S. is much closer and would be a logical market for future development. And if the APHIS decides to officially recognize golden berries are fruit fly free it would imply exports would be permissible under a systems approach for virtually the whole country.
Lozano says Boyaca and Cundinamarca are the biggest growing regions, but significant amounts of fruit are also produced in the departments of Antioquia and Nariño. Under the current set-up fruit from these two areas can still only be shipped under the 2002 cold treatment guidelines.
"If the non-host protocol is approved, we’ll be able to export [without cold treatment] from all of Colombia, and Antioquia is an important department in golden berries.
"There is a company which is a leader in uchuva exports at the moment, called Caribbean Exotics, and they have their crop in Antioquia."
A boost to port infrastructure
The current systems approach for approved farms in Boyaca and Cundinamarca has been for airfreight golden berry shipments to the U.S., but this mode of transport tends to imply limitations for volume. In this sense, the supply dynamics for the U.S. are similar to what they were for Europe around eight years ago before sea shipping got underway.
"The response from Europe meant that greater volumes and better logistics were needed, and that’s why we’ve been doing seafreight for some time now," he says.
"The protocol for the work plan with the U.S. demands an inspection in the port of origin, and it demands an anti-thrips cover – in the airport there are two companies doing this with cold storage, so that the fruit arrives with all the protection that the protocol requires.
"We are also setting this up in the Port of Cartagena so that anyone who wants to export can apply these protections under the protocol," he says, adding the new seafreight system for U.S. access should be ready within a month's time.
Supporting production, demand through gastronomy
While Colombian golden berry growers have had to battle with the effects of drought in 2016, Lozano expects volume to still grow over the course of the coming years in line with demand.
To help producers, a partnership between the committee, ICA and its scientific investigation arm CorpoICA will soon be releasing new varieties to the industry.
"With CorpoICA we are also analyzing the genetic material for golden berries across the whole country, and we've had some important results with two varieties of golden berries registered in Colombia with ICA to be able to give growers and exporters material with promising characteristics.
"By that I mean productivity, fruit with higher pack-outs, good quality, and there is also research into another phytosanitary issue we'd like to get on top of for special characteristics against fusarium, but CorpoICA is still investigating."
"The important thing is we have varieties registered in Colombia which have been promising, but the process hasn’t reached the point of deciding on names for commercialization."
He says the committee has also been hard at work connecting with potential overseas customers in foodservice, the pharmaceutical industry and the world of haute cuisine to incorporate the fruit in more dishes and products.
He says some suggestions include using golden berries in sauces to accompany meats and seafood, or dipping the fruit in melted chocolate as a dessert in a similar way to what is often done with strawberries.
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