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Argentina: Rio Negro's organic fruit production increases by 52%
International demand for organic products has been growing in recent years thanks to the developed economies that are leading the consumption of this type of product.
The fruit growing sector of the Rio Negro and Neuquen Valley, which have been submerged in a structural crisis for quite a while, saw a small ray of hope in this possibility presented by the market. More than five years ago, the region accelerated the production of organic, looking to differentiate itself from its competitors of the southern hemisphere. The Patagonia brand and the low load of agrochemicals on the regional farms made this project viable. The companies led this new trend that, despite being a niche product within the international market, accounts for an important volume of the Valley's economy.
According to a report prepared by Senasa, which is called "Situation of Argentina's Organic Production in 2016", the organic sector has grown steadily in recent years. Official data shows that there are currently more than 4,400 hectares certified in organic production in the Valley region. Almost all of them produce pears and apples. The surface area devoted to organic production in Rio Negro increased by 52% over the previous year, wile Neuquen's area increased by 16%. At the national level, the surface devoted to organic production increased by around 10% over the year 2015, much less than in the two aforementioned provinces.
Pears and apples organic production already account for 11% of the total number of pears and apples planted throughout the Valley; five years ago, it only accounted for 3% of the total production.
This increase in the region's organic production is due almost exclusively to the good prices this type of product has in the international market. "Organic pears and apples are being paid 30% to 50% better than the conventional fruit. Last season this percentage was much higher," said a major exporter when asked about the issue. This same trend is observed in industrialized products, as in the case of juices, purees, and dehydrated products. According to data from Senasa, the region exported more than 55,000 tons of organic products, 80% of which were fresh pears and apples. The remainder corresponded to other products, such as concentrated juices, purees, pulps, dehydrated products, and aromas.
Most of the region's organic production is for export, little is destined to the internal market. Based on official data at the end of 2016, last year, exports of organic fresh pears and apples accounted for 12% of the total external trade of these two species and this indicator changes to 23% when related to overseas sales (Europe, Russia and the United States, especially).
The increase in environmental awareness during the last years also brought about the modification of food consumption habits and a boom for organic products.
The region of Rio Negro and Neuquen is one of the regions that produces the most organic products in the country.
In face of the crisis in conventional production, organic fruit crops became an option for the region. Jose Garcia, the president of the Chamber of Producers from General Roca, has devoted himself to this specialty and is working together with the First Local Cooperative. The change took place because this product is much easier to get into foreign trade, Garcia said. "The risk is the same as in conventional production, but in this case we have a chance to compete. There is a little more income in its sale," the producer added.
Miguel Sabbadini, the general manager of Fruempac, said: "We make 100% organic fruit and we've learned that there are good years and bad years. It is a complex, risky activity that requires different practices to reach the highest quality."
This year in particular, he stated, placing the fruit in traditional markets was difficult because the market for organic pears from the southern hemisphere became saturated.
This type of production also became a familiar alternative. In Cipolletti, for example, many beneficiaries of INTA's Pro Huerta program, which is based on promoting organic production for family consumption, sold its surplus through fairs, as they had the corresponding certification. There also is a fair of primary producers in Villa Regina.
"Organic product consumption is a growing trend. We should work more on spreading the benefits of this type of food," said nutrition graduates Romina Trifogli and Marcela Marconi, who added that many families had access to these products because they grew them in their orchards.
"Pro Huerta focuses on the families, and has a great diffusion in the schools; that's why we manage the whole issue of pests in an organic way. Organic control is an eco-systemic issue, regulating the ecosystem, basically the guidelines for achieving organic production. We are looking for a balance in the ecosystem, associating crops, with an organic soil management without the use of chemically synthesised fertilizers," said Juan Ciccioli, referring to the program of the Rural Extension Agency of INTA in Villa Regina.
Publication date: 8/16/2017
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