In the first few months of this 2021, Colombian avocado exports experienced soaring growth, nearly doubling year-on-year from January through May. This is even as a month-long protests and roadblocks in the country impacted the agricultural industry.
Insiders say it affected the industry’s ability to control and monitor for pests and diseases, leading to crop loss, and disrupting port operations.
Widespread protests began at the end of April in opposition to a now-withdrawn tax reform but have since expanded to call for a basic income, opportunities for young people and to end police violence.
Chief of the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA), Alfonso Araujo, said the regions that have been most affected by the delay in processes are those in the southwest, specifically in Valle del Cauca, Nariño, Huila and Tolima.
“Although immediately the notification of a sanitary situation is received and the entity acts, at the moment due to the effects of the strike it has not been possible to do it with the immediacy that these processes require”, Araujo said.
While pointing out “we try to address everything that is occurring in the country. At the moment, in the southwest, is where we have had some limitations to access the territories’’, it was however not clear to what extent agricultural export operations may have been affected, but the nation’s biggest Pacific port – Buenaventura – has been paralysed by protests.
President of Colombian Horticultural Association (Asohofrucol), Álvaro Palacio, warned of the risk to fruit crops, which can easily be affected by fruit fly due to the lack of surveillance and control, as well as due to the lack of inputs such as pesticides.
Palacio said “the level of exports in the long term could fall, not only because of the lack of control and monitoring, but also because of the absence of inputs such as pesticides, which, for the most part, are imported and have not been able to reach the country”.
The crisis in Colombia also led to food loss, with the Colombian Farmers’ Society (SAC) recently revealing in a report that around 16,000 metric tons (MT) of food have been lost due to mobility difficulties in 29 of the country’s 32 departments.
According to local media, “fruits, vegetables, Hass avocado, coffee, sugar cane, milk production and processing, poultry, fish and pig farming, have been the sectors impacted by the current situation in the country”.
President of SAC, Jorge Bedoya, said ‘’the roadblocks are an attack against food security. So if Colombia wants to eradicate hunger one of the first things that should be viable is food production, but these actions violate the possibility of producing food.”
However, according to ProColombia, avocado exports to all destinations over the five-month period rose by 88 percent to $114.3 million. The main destinations were the Netherlands, the U.K., Spain, Belgium, France, Germany, Argentina, Russia and Costa Rica.
The dramatic growth of avocados over recent years means that the fruit is now Colombia’s second-most important agricultural export.
President of ProColombia, Flavia Santoro, said “avocados are currently the second most exported fruit, behind bananas. Undoubtedly, it is a major growth-driver of the country’s agro-export basket, which allows us to diversify our supply abroad.”
Though Europe remains Colombia’s leading avocado market by far, the South American country continues to open up new opportunities elsewhere, such as in Asia, Executive Director of industry body Corpohass, Jorge Restrepo, saYS “Hass avocado exports to South Korea are an example of the use of new markets opened, thanks to the strategy of the National Government’s Health Diplomacy.
“In this new milestone, I highlight the commitment of entrepreneurs in this sector to take the fruit to new destinations in markets that have very demanding work plans for producers and exporters. Colombian fruit is already a new option for Korean consumers.”
Adding, he said the sector has become a major part of Colombia’s non-traditional agricultural exports, attracting a lot of foreign investment from countries like Chile, South Africa, the US and Peru.
Colombian avocado export volume rose by 73 percent in 2020 to 77,190 metric tons (MT). In terms of value, they grew by 64 percent to $146.4m.