Monday, November 14, 2016

Living in Peru: Peruvian blueberries go global

"Peruvian Blueberries go global"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Living in Peru
November 14, 2016

The blueberry market has steadily began to increase and make an important niche for itself within the country.

In a commentary for Living in Peru entitled Peru on its way to becoming leader in blueberry exports (November, 2014), the author was optimistic about Peru’s blueberry industry, stating that “while Peru continues to successfully export staple-goods like coffee, potatoes, and quinoa, the blueberry market has, in the span of only a couple of years, made an important niche for itself.” Two years later, this past October, Peruvian Minister of Agriculture Jose Hernandez declared that Peru could become the world’s biggest blueberry producer within the next two years. Needless to say, Lima has become quite ambitious about this particular berry.
According to said ministry, Peruvian blueberry producers are looking to cultivate up to 20 thousand tons of these berries in 2016. This seems like an achievable amount given how just in the first three months of 2016 alone, Peruvian farmers grew 3,600 tons of blueberries, four times the amount during the same period in 2015. If the situation continues, by the end of the year, Peru could have exported as much asUSD$200 million worth of blueberries.
A critical issue regarding the future of blueberry production is farming land. The good news is that according to Alfonso Velasquez Tuesta, president of Sierra Exportadora, the goal for this year is to have 3,200 hectares of land growing blueberries. Most of the farming land is found in La Libertad region.
Another positive news is that new markets are opening for Peruvian blueberry exports. Almost parallel to Minister Hernandez’s declaration, on October 10, Lima signed an agreement with the Colombian government via which five Peruvian agricultural products, including blueberries, can now enter the neighboring country. Even more, Peru has also signed a trade agreement with China, which allows Peruvian blueberries to be sold in this important Asian market. Similarly, Peruvian blueberries have also found their way to the United Kingdom. Finally, we should stress that Peru is also attempting to have a bigger foothold in the U.S. as a delegation of Peruvian trade representatives participated in the PMA Fresh Summit Expo held this past October in Florida – blueberries, among other products, were displayed for the thousands of attendees.
The interest in wellness has greatly contributed to the growing export of Peruvian crops associated with healthy eating, such as quinoa and blueberries.
In spite of these, we must remember that there are other South American blueberry producers which have similarly enjoyed recent accomplishments. For example, a new runway measuring almost 8,000 square meters was inaugurated in an airport in Tucuman, northern Argentina on October 6. The Argentinian daily La Nacion reported that, thanks to the expansion, just in October the airport transported 3,825,000 kilos of blueberries to the United States, which is more than the 3,200,000 kilos sent to said market in all of 2015. The report also mentioned that direct cargo flights (via Air Cargo Global) from Tucuman to London are now taking off in order to increase the presence of Argentinian blueberries in Europe. Meanwhile, Chile has also reported success in production and sales. A September report in Pulso states that Chilean blueberry exports reached USD$896 million in 2015. Chile is the third biggest exporter of this berry in the world, after the United States and Spain; this is an important fact to keep in mind since Peru attempts to enter the U.S. blueberry market, which means that Peruvian exporters will have to compete with local blueberry producers.
A final challenge regarding blueberries is that this is, obviously, an agricultural product. This means that it is at the mercy of the climate, which in Peru can include sharp changes in temperatures and other weather patterns that will be exacerbated by climate change. It is important to note that in Chile, the 2016/2017 season commenced two weeks early due to slightly higher-than-normal temperatures; this will negatively affect some varieties of Chilean blueberries. The author has not found sufficient information to discuss how climate change is affecting (or could affect) blueberry production in Peru, but hopefully appropriate research and planning is being carried out.
Miguel Cordano Rodríguez, general manager of Sierra Exportadora, declared earlier this year that there is “an unfulfilled demand for berries in the world. That’s why I encourage producers to keep on growing these crops to meet this demand, not only in terms of volume but also quality. This way, we will diversify our basket of products as well as the destination markets.” Analogous to the quinoa market, Peruvian blueberries are profiting from the global interest in wellness and healthy eating. Hopefully the new government will continue to support this booming berry industry so that the Ministry of Agriculture’s predictions become a reality by the end of the decade.
Follow W. Alejandro Sanchez on Twitter.