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Bogota show shines light on global industry

by Tad Thompson | July 26, 2009
BOGOT?, COLOMBIA -- South America's largest agricultural exhibition, XVII Agroexpo Corferias 2009, which opened here July 16 and was scheduled to run through July 26, targeted Colombia's various agricultural production entities and was expected to draw more than 300,000 people.

At Bolivia's booth was F?lix Herrera, president of Asociaci?n de Productores Ecol?gicos Primero Aroma, or APEPA, which is based in Catavi in southern Bolivia. Mr. Herrera said that APEPA involves 650 families from 20 communities surrounding Catavi.

The group is primarily focused on the production of 150 varieties of fresh- market potatoes. These potatoes have always been part of the Bolivian culture, starting with the Imara indigenous people who relied on them as their primary food. The potatoes "have been grown organically forever," said Mr. Herrera.

APEPA has filled the potato needs of La Paz supermarkets, and the organization is now working to develop international markets, according to Mr. Herrera, who added that APEPA can access international markets through the seaport of Arica, Chile, which is about 300 miles away.

Developing international markets "is not a long-term project," he noted, because the group already possesses international certifications and has the volumes to justify exports. North America is among APEPA's target markets. Mr. Herrera said that Bolivians know many uses for the 150 potato varieties. Some potatoes are made into flour. Others, used fresh, offer various flavors and colors in a meal. Some have thin skins and do not need to be peeled. Catavi's rainy season runs from January through March. The area has very steady temperatures, which range from 55 degrees to 77 degrees. Potato harvest is mostly in April and May.

Another Agroexpo participant was Arturo Avenda?o, who coordinates the Bogot? operations of Impor Fenix, based in Cali, Colombia. Impor Fenix imports deciduous fruit from Chile, Argentina, Peru, California, Oregon, Washington and Canada. Mr. Avenda?o said that he imports a total of 11 different fruits from the United States.

With circuitous connections, it takes two weeks to receive fruit shipped from San Francisco. Given South American red tape, it usually takes a month to receive fruit from nearby Chile or Argentina.

In all, Impor Fenix receives 1,500 containers of fruit each year.

The firm has national distribution, with its own warehouses and the help of two sister companies. Impor Fenix reaches all corners of Colombia, he added.