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Cape gooseberries, one of Colombia's most popular exotic fruits abroad

2015 will be remembered as a special year for the cape gooseberry. This fruit was one of the products that Colombia showcased in Milan's World Fair, an event that in past editions brought about colossal works, like the Eiffel Tower or the Chicago Wheel. Two years ago the theme was food, and since the cape gooseberry is considered a superfruit for its nutritional value, it was the perfect choice for this event.

It was also the year in which, after more than a decade of work between the authorities and the private sector, Colombia started shipping cape gooseberries without any cold treatment to the United States. That may sound a bit technical or even irrelevant, but in practice it means that the costs of exporting this product decreased by about 40%. Today, according to Analdex, Colombia sells abroad 5,000 to 6,000 tons of this product, mainly to European countries and North America.

Additionally, also in 2015, far from wanting to sell fresh fruit abroad - something Colombia has done for more than two decades - Terraferitl, a company from Zipaquira, was working on a patent to make the processing of the cape gooseberries more efficient. That was one of two company inventions that were recognized in recent months. Terrafertil is the largest exporter of dehydrated cape gooseberries in the world and won the 2017 Analdex and Procolombia's national exporter award, in the medium-sized category.

They ship their product to 20 countries and processes about 50 tons a week, which they collect from 400 farmers from five departments: Cundinamarca, Boyaca, Santander, Antioquia, and Nariño. What sets them apart is that they dehydrate the fruit and sell it with an added value. According to Hugo Quiroga, general manager of Terrafertil, this has allowed them to solve problems, such decreasing the number of fruit that was discarded for fresh export due to some stain or imperfection in its physical appearance.

In fact, some farmers who sold their product to fresh exporters decided to stop doing so and stated to deliver everything so that is dehydrated. Today, 50% of Terrafertil's suppliers work exclusively with the company, which ensures they buy the entire harvest. To achieve this, the farmer and the company plan the plantings and the product is traded at a fixed price throughout the year.

Cape gooseberries require a careful collection, as is the case with coffee. Nearly 70% of the workers are women. In addition, most farmers work an average of one hectare, again, very similar to what happens in the cultivation of coffee. "They can plant 10 hectares, but there will be no one in the region to help them maintain themt," said Quiroga, referring to the shortage of labor in the countryside, where 12 out of 100 young people are migrating to cities, according to the Latin American Center for Rural Development.

"This is one of Colombia's exotic fruits with the highest acceptance in international markets and the second most exported fruit after bananas in 2015," states Procolombia. But, unlike products sought after abroad, such as cacao or bananas, cape gooseberries represent an opportunity for farmers in cold lands, as the crop adapts between 2,000 and 3,000 meters above sea level.

Terrafertil exports about 96% of what it produces, including a fruit concentrate, and the company has been adapting to the markets. For example, they have sweet cape gooseberries, which are sweetened with sugar of pineapple juice, for the foreign consumers that find the dehydrated cape gooseberry too sour.

In Colombia, the company sells the remaining 4% through supermarkets, in the form of healthy snacks, combined with nuts, such as almonds or pistachios, which are not widely produced in the country. They are therefore not net exporters and do not benefit from a high or very low exchange rate. In addition they sell other product lines, like soy, almond, and coconut water drinks, fruit infusions, and a line of chia and quinoa seeds.

For now, the company's expansion plan is to consolidate in the markets in which they already have presence. This shows that a company can profit, not only from adding value, but also by participating in a booming market, such as healthy food, which, according to Nielsen, has been growing in sales at a nearly 5% rate in Colombia. It is an opportunity for cape gooseberries and other fruits of great potential, such as Hass avocados or passionfruit.


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