Bolivian pineapples, hearts of palm, and bananas make a difference in international trade

Juan Carlos Salinas reports for El Deber:

Pineapples, hearts of palm, and bananas make a difference in international trade

2014-07-24 08.30.16 amDespite the cold weather, a strangeness in the Cochabamba Tropics, the vans that carry workers to the banana productive centers are crowded.

Isarzama and Ivirgarzama (Carrasco Province) are the operations center where acres and acres of banana plantation can be seen from the roadside.

Antonio Machicado for several years has been producer and exporter of bananas, his main market is Argentina, which he considers the most likely because there are already developed adequate transport logistics and marketing. [since late 80s, an effort that took lots of money, patience and endurance of USAID/Bolivia’s alternative development personnel]

“In just four days you reach Argentina, the roads are in good condition, so that export to that country remains profitable, especially when they are paying for housing between $6.50 and $ 7 dollars. And always have significant demand”, said Machicado. [provided the coca growers or other groups engage in road blockading along the export route]

In Ivirgarzama, trucks carrying bananas are ready to go to Argentina, cleanliness is key to ensure that the product is not stopped at the border due to phytosanitary issues.

Antonio Salas washed the refrigerating chamber, where every four or five days, they are carrying more than 500 boxes of Bolivian bananas to be sold mainly in Buenos Aires and this market has a quality option to Ecuadorian bananas.

Salas said that when blockages or civic stoppages occur, business becomes more complicated and many times the products are spoiled.

So the request of exporters to government authorities is to keep the roads in good condition, especially in the rainy season, because by floods or sudden cuts on the road, stop the scheduled delivery of bananas, do not meet the commitments to domestic and foreign buyers and generates mistrust.

Several hours of work

On the road to Isarzama, by the Segundo Nazareno community, the sun slowly warms the day, while gloved hands are responsible for washing and disinfecting bananas, ‘green gold’, as they call it here. Another group of girls, knife in hand, surgically, cut and separate the wedges that are damaged, they can not filter out any that is not in excellent condition.

On one side of the factory, a young group is packaging the product, speed and accuracy are the conditions that don Luciano Huaranca requires, owner of a plot of 26 hectares and tirelessly, with his wife, receives the banana bunches emerging from his planting sites.

Andres Marca, while watching no smaller than accepted or corrupted banana slide on the box says that the day starts very early in the plantations, where the clusters and then transported by rail and get to the pools where they are cut to start with the selection and bagging, then load the boxes into a small truck that part towards the town, where a larger truck receives the merchandise and is controlled again and receives the green light to travel about 2,700 km to the Argentina capital.

Partners: The best formula

In the Cochabamba tropics, soil is cherished, there is little room to waste, so the banana plots are no more than 30 hectares and if their owners do not have sufficient capital to export, they get together to be partners with another that does have the necessary amount of resources to export the product.

Huaranca is happy, despite the cold that threatens the yield of his plantations, knows that the $4 dollars that the exporter pays for each box allows him to have a good perspective and achieve some savings.

Every week, on hot days, per hectare harvested manages to fill between 400 and 500 boxes of bananas, each weighing 22 kilograms.

For Marcelina Mendoza, owner of 25 hectares, the current situation of the Argentine market is positive, far away from 2012 when the neighboring country by surprise vetoed Bolivian banana exports and led its price down to $ 2 dollars per box.

That price scenario complicated the production, pushing many to seek refuge in pineapple, hearts of palm or try out luck at something new: fish farming.

“What is here produced, 80% is going to Argentina, so it is important to keep this market and look for ways to send more boxes and do not be afraid to products of Ecuador,” said Mendoza.

Long gone are the days when the first boxes of bananas left the Chapare towards Arica, Chile. A trick that imported tires went back to Chile empty and DAI’s advisors to USAID/Bolivia found about it and made an arrangement of the first banana export to take place. The size of boxes and weight was set up with an Arica supermarket. The first load arrived with two boxes that had some mud and leafs. The typical “viveza criolla” [native cunning] thought that in order to come to the required weight, some mud and leaves would be “just fine”… despite the fact that the night before the truck left the Chapare, farmers, workers, advisors worked overnight, tirelessly but “that” happened”.

As time passed by, the other main issue to overcome with bananas and pineapples export was to develop a cold chain to reach the best market possible for the alternative development products: Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Road blockades, coca-growers’ unions as they “control/own” the land, which they only give to whomever grows coca…. are constant threats to the legal and more environmentally friendly products. It us not an easy business to fight narcotraffick but it is being done!

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