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Peruvian citrus is building a bright future in summer deal

by Tad Thompson | June 23, 2010
Former Peruvian Minister of Agriculture Ismael Benavides sees a very bright future for his country's citrus exports.

Peru is already building its citrus industry with greater technology, new varieties and better growing techniques, Mr. Benavides said. With this "Peru has a great potential for growth," he told The Produce News. "We are going in that direction."

He noted, "The private sector in Peru has done very much on its own, with very little help from the government" except on developing a national phytosanitary and food-safety program. Having the private sector advance itself is "a costly process and what we have to do now is try to incorporate more technology into our agriculture, so we are prepared to be more technical." Growers in more advanced countries, like Chile, that have shown how greater efficiency, productivity and diversity in citrus production enable industry to move ahead, despite rising overhead costs in categories such as labor and energy.

Mr. Benavides is the chief executive officer of Empacadora y Procesadora Huamani S.A.C., a grower-packer-exporter located in Pisco, Peru. Huamani grows asparagus and table grapes, as well as citrus. Mr. Benavides was Peru's agriculture minister for 18 months until the end of 2008.

While he held the public office, he put into place legislation to start to strengthen agriculture and food safety. "We are working quite a bit on all the aspects of food safety and trying to keep good registry and information on what pesticides are used, and so on. It is something that, even though we followed the standards established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or other institutions in other countries, now we want to make sure that everybody who exports is abiding by rules to keep control of these things."

His own company has earned the gamut of certifications relating to HACCP and GlobalGAP. Generally speaking, he said, "Peruvian product can compete very well with any U.S.-grown or other growers in the Southern Hemisphere. We have good quality and high standards equivalent to anywhere in the world and buyers can be sure that Peruvian product will be a quality product."

Peru's "agro-export business has gained credibility," Mr. Benavides said. Peru's citrus industry "has been growing and obviously not as fast as some other crops like asparagus over the years," he said. But, citrus is a "a more complex crop to handle than asparagus." Peru's citrus industry has new plantations "and what is happening is that some old asparagus fields are also being turned into citrus."

Mr. Benavides said, "Peru has very good natural conditions for citrus, particularly in the central coastal area" where the industry "will continue to grow. We will see growth coming ahead quite fast."

He noted that Peru's citrus industry "works well together. We have a trade association, ProCitrus, and we work through it. It has a technical assistance side and we also get together to import fertilizers, pesticides and whatever." Mr. Benavides continued, "Now, I think we are getting our feet wet on the commercial end to work together -- not as a marketing board but" to have "a more coordinated marketing and sales approach. If my previous experience working on other things is any indication, I think in the future" Peru's citrus industry "will be very cooperative."

Juan Pablo Bedoya, a grower, packer and exporter of citrus and other Peruvian commodities, noted that Peru's agro-industry is very good for Peru's economy.

Mr. Bedoya said, for example, that a Peruvian mine with annual sales of $2 billion will employ 500 people. By comparison, Coexa, with 700 acres of production, employs more than 1,000 people.

Mr. Bedoya, who is the deputy CEO of Ica, Peru-based Coexa, noted that Peru's efforts to please international buyers include meeting the stringent demands of Europe. For example, particularly to satisfy European demand, Coexa tracks the carbon footprint burned by all phases of its production and distribution. Within this program, Coexa has a responsibility to neutralize those emissions through efforts such as planting trees, which produce oxygen, thereby rebuilding the environment.

(For more on summer citrus, see the June 28, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)