While the Peruvian mega-irrigation project Olmos has enticed large domestic and international agricultural companies to snap up new farmland, one of its social initiatives is just starting to bear fruit in the form of organic bananas.
Out of the 43,500ha dedicated to agricultural development, 5,500ha were slated for social projects, including an agglomeration of 73 families that have participated in a pilot project to grow bananas on 100.5 hectares in the initial phase.
"Our work is focused on small growers. We don't intervene with the hectares that have been sold to businesspeople," said Pedro Yesquen, who is heading up the irrigation project's social management and economic development unit.
"This pilot project has been introduced because these 5,500ha are in a valley where there has never been a regular water supply, and secondly, they are people without experience in agriculture and even less in working in associations."
He says an induction process was held for the growers with workshops held for "new" growers involved, who shortlisted five potential crops and settled on bananas as having the best prospects based on Olmos' weather, water availability and soil.
"After that we started to work on a business plan, which was done with the help of Agroideas (Compensation Program for Competitiveness) and financing from [banking institution] Banco Agrario, which have financed 45% of the PEN3.3 million (US$979,275) project.
Yesquen said farmer participants first started the process of forming associations in November 2014, and started planting the crop in August last year.
"The first significant harvests will start this August, however there was some fruit that started early in July but it was in small volumes," he said.
The harvesting associations go by the names of La Juliana, Agroimpe and Miguel Grau.
In the process the increased economic activity is expected to generate permanent jobs as well, and in the first year the groups are set to harvest 1,800 (18.5kg) boxes per hectare, rising to 2,200 boxes per hectare in the third year of harvest.
"As they progress in their production and organization, a second stage will be for them to sell bananas to packhouses with a different price. The third stage will be to export directly," Yesquen said, clarifying that during the learning process the bananas will be purchased at a fixed price of US$6 per box.
He said the organic bananas would be of the common Cavendish variety, to be exported through a Dutch business with the fruit eventually going to European markets such as Germany and Switzerland.
"We are seeing the impact. A second project of 400 hectares has been approved and there are already 11 associations with approved business plans," he said.
"At the moment we are trying to evaluate organic pineapples, which is a very interesting crop in terms of experience in small farming at the associative level. Soon we will do a pilot project to adapt this crop to our zone of the Viejo Valley.
At www.freshfruitportal.com we have previously reported on another farm associated with the project's social element, table grape grape enterprise Zeit Organisch headed up by Chilean farmer Jorge Lampe.
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