Organic Mango Farmers Rise to the Challenge

The lush, tropical Piura region in north-western Peru is ideal for fruit growing.  Its organic bananas are considered among the worlds finest, as are its avocadoes, coconuts and grapes.  Moreover, Piura’s signature green and red Kent mangos can be harvested several months before Mexican mangos hit North American shelves. So when the opportunity arose to help a regional farming association diversify from sales at the farm gate into international markets, TFO Canada rose to the challenge.

Previously, the small ejido farms typical of Tambo Grande had sold to local wholesalers, suffering losses when credit arrangements were not honoured.  So the idea of exporting organically grown produce under legally binding contracts would be, reasoned farmers working under the Agrotam collective, well worth the extra effort.

Farm to Retail

Enter TFO Canada, with its expertise in bringing together producers and buyers.  Partners were assembled, including representatives from the Organization of American States, TFO Canada’s fresh produce expert Charles Beresford, mango expert Derby Elias at Peruvian Lider Export, and La Huerta Imports in Canada.  The six-month evaluation, training and export promotion project was underwritten by the Department of Foreign Affairs Trade and Development.  The entire project covered more than 350 hectares of organic mango orchards and about 200 families.

Preparations preceding the first shipments included classroom and fieldwork with members of the programme’s farmer associations, culminating with an in-country buyer’s visit.  On arrival in Canada, TFO Associate Charles Beresford and his colleagues provided a ‘surgical inspection’ of the mango shipments, checking for sweetness, colour, weight, pulp temperature and other metrics.

Learning Experience
However, to every success story there are lessons to be learned – especially in agriculture, where so many variables come into play.

The first nine containers of mangos were perfect.  However, Beresford detected early signs of stem rot in the final three shipments.  While stem rot is not uncommon, with the right plant nutrition applied immediately after harvesting it is preventable.  So now, along with more stringent nutrition and control rules, traceability measures will be implemented.  This will ensure all Agrotam farmers are not penalized by one bad consignment from a single farm, and meet upcoming Canadian ‘place of origin’ regulations for all imported produce.

Indeed, as Charles Beresford points out, you can’t let one unfortunate experience overshadow what’s been a positive learning experience.  “To export produce you must have that ‘can do’ mentality … to want to keep learning to make it happen.” With the majority of growers keen to implement the necessary plant care controls, he remains optimistic for the future.

In spite of this ‘lesson learned’, the Agrotam growers are pleased with the overall results and returns from their first venture in direct exporting.  They have begun preparations for the next growing season and are confident that – based on their Canadian export experience – they will adapt and build on their successes for even greater export results in 2013.