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Colombian to export pitaya to the US

Israelis that visited La Cueva de los Guácharos ten years ago gave the green light to some farmers in El Roble, La Mensura and Sinaí to sow pitaya, as they established that these lands in Palestina (Huila) were good for such cultivation.

ICA keeps on supporting farmers tat produce quality fruits.

Other of the reasons for this is that the fruit is demanded in Europe and by having optimal conditions the cultivation could be done with no inconveniences and less technology than that carried out by the Israelis.

In Colombia, in the south of Huila, there are three groups of fruit producers working in Palestina and now they are ready to sell the fruit in association with other areas like Boyacá and Cundinamarca, taking advantage of commercial benefits offered by the start of the free trade agreement.

Some fruit exporting companies contacted the Association of Pitaya and South Fruits Producers of Huila (Apropi), said president, Eusebio Pinzón. The leader pointed out that they will participate in a training in Bogotá to learn the quality process and fruit packaging, as in Palestina they are already harvesting peaches and pitayas, in a 153 hectares extension field, with the proper certification for exporting.

The association is born
Apropi started in 2003 on the root of the coffee crisis and thinking about diversification and search for alternative cultivations. Paying attention to the Israeli advice, they started harvesting pitaya in a smaller scale and in the area were the fruit adapted itself to the climate.

By getting a good production, cultivations were raised and, in May 2003, they created the Association of Pitaya and Fruit producers, with only 10 founding associates.

Each one planted a thousand pitaya plants and today the organization counts on 48 associates, all producers with 146 hectares of pitaya cultivations registered and more than 150 hectares of peach in production.

In 2007 there's the program "Rural Opportunities" by the Ministry of Agriculture, to support producers, presenting the association as a big organization and showing it by posters and leaflets, to pass to the business phase and go around the country.

Eusebio Pinzón, president, and Misael Gómez, vice-president of  Aspropi and 
Frutas  del  Sur  del  Huila.

Four years later, the producers association participated in a winter help program, sponsored by the Colombian Institute of Agriculture and Live-stock (Instituto Colombiano Agropecuario - ICA), the entity that certified them in the production of fruit for export, and that is now supporting them with some organic products for fitosanitary control and made some investigations with a pathologist for the control of plagues and diseases.

Commercialising peaches
At the moment, in Palestina, not only passion fruit and pitaya are produced. In May the peach harvest started in an area of more than 153 hectares and producers are organized in productive alliances for its commerce, handling credits making it easier to negotiate on direct exports.

Producers are optimistic as the first peach sales had a good quality outcome, with more than 40% of the first harvest was classified as "extra" for buyers and 55% as "industrial", meaning that fruits taken to Bogota will be used to make marmalade.

A follow-up on the pest and disease control system advanced by ICA by the specialist in the Innocuous program, Eugenio Guerrero Obando, that affirms that products or fruits to be exported to the United States must present optimal sanitary conditions and a certification of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) by the producers of passion fruit, peach and pitaya, like the first certified farmers in the country.

On a national level, 11 producers in Palestina got a registry to export fresh fruit. The process started in 2007 and now they have also GAP. Another 6 producers got the certification for passion fruit export and keep on getting technical assistance by the State on the GAP, precisely to take advantage of the FTA with the United States.

Founding partner at Apropi
The mayor of Palestina, Wilson de Jesús Castillo, also has 4 hectares of peach cultivation in his farm and so he became a farmer before being mayor, as he contributed to the foundation of the Fruit Producers Association that counts on 48 associates today.

The representative also pointed out that during his administration, he made a bet on strengthening the farming and livestock sector, saying that cultivations diversification in his municipality gave some good results, right after the coffee crisis passed, even if coffee still is in the first line of the economy, while they're not the first producer of passion fruit anymore due to fitosanitary problems.

"Now we are taking the fourth place in the production of very good quality pitaya, were we have exporting experience to other countries, like Spain and now we point to the United States as the FTA offers us the chance with the peach production".

In Palestina, farmworkers implement now the cultivation of plum and, due to the agricultural importance of it for the Municipal Adminstration, they are set to celebrate the farmer's "fiesta" by exhibiting agricultural products as an acknowledgement of they work.

ICA's work
Eugenio Guerrero Obando, specialist in the project Fruit Fly and in Innocuous at ICA, affirmed that the institute has worked with producers in the municipality of Palestina since 2007 for the building's registry in order to export fresh fruit and implement GAP.

Additionally there are 20 more cultivating berries in San Agustín that got GAP. The market for this fruit is more local.

About passion fruit, the expert says that this cultivation had sanitary problems and this makes it more difficult to fulfil the farmer's wishes to take this product abroad.

Source: Diario del Huila

Publication date: 5/25/2012


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