Citrus fruits arrived in America along with the first Spanish navigators in the 15th century. Since then, they have conquered the whole region and have now become a benchmark production in many of the continent's countries.
The fruit was first introduced to American soil by Christopher Columbus, who in 1493 sowed some lemon and lime seeds in Hispaniola (which is nowadays the Dominican Republic), which he had acquired on the Canary island of La Gomera. Later, the first Spanish invasion campaigns between 1517 and 1519 helped spread citrus trees throughout the territory.
The first citrus fruits arrived in Colombia in 1518. Since then their cultivation has spread throughout the country and nowadays Colombia has nearly 97,300 hectares that produce 1.2 million tons of oranges, lemons, mandarins, grapefruits, tangelos, and limes a year. Even though citrus is grown throughout practically the whole country, the biggest producers are the departments of Meta, Valle del Cauca, Quindio, Caldas, Risaralda, Antioquia, and Magdalena.
Renovation and modernization
According to the president of the Citrus Association of Rionegro (CitriRionegro), Sandra Marcela Díaz Pérez, despite its size, the Colombian citrus sector demands renewal and modernization in various regions. In the province of Rionegro, for example, the orange sector has been in decline due to the advanced age of the orchards' trees, she said. However, she added, the crop has gradually started to be reactivated thanks to the initiative of some producers.
“We are taking up the issue, we went back to planting and looking for an incentive with new and prospective trees. We have the productive capacity and the land to do so, but we urgently need the support of the government, the local market, and businessmen to sell more so we can increase crops and generate an exportable supply,” stated Sandra Marcela Diaz Perez.
One of the challenges that Colombia's citrus sector faces is the phytosanitary issue, as there are threats, such as the Mediterranean fly that attacks more than 250 fruit species, including oranges, tangerines, lemons, limes, and all the sour fruits, the president of CitriRionegro said. In that sense, the sector permanently works with the Colombian Agricultural Institute, ICA, and with other state entities, such as Agrosavia, to prevent pests, control them, and to improve the quality of the crops.
Alvaro Ernesto Palacio Pelaez, the general manager of Colombia's Fruit and Vegetable, said there still were great opportunities for citrus crops in Colombia. For example, he said, Tahiti lime producers have achieved international standards so the market for this citrus fruit is promising. Currently, he said, Colombia is selling all of its lemons because the sector has a very attractive organic process and excellent prices, which optimizes the export potential.
He also said there is great potential for sweet oranges if the country can establish a complete agro-industry; which is why it is imperative the sector has a processing facility to process fruit by-products, such as oil, juice, pectins, and dehydrated peels for animal feed. According to Asohofrucol, building this processing plant would cost approximately $ 50 million.
“We are trying to manage this macro-project with the government, but there has not been the necessary echo. However, there is a whole space to gain in citrus and transformed sweet orange. Oranges and citrus fruits are the only products in the agricultural chain that are listed on the New York Stock Exchange's future markets and this is because they have an important demand that will continue to grow,” stated the General Manager of Asohofrucol.
World production increases
In the 2018-2019 period, world citrus production reached approximately 101.5 million tons and grew by 9% over the previous year. Orange had the largest share with approximately 53.4%. It was followed by mandarins with 31.5%, and lemons and limes with 8.3%. Orange production amounted to nearly 54.3 million tons, showing greater dynamics in production and consumption.
The world's main orange producers are Brazil, China, India, the European Union (Spain and Italy), the United States, India, Mexico, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, and Italy.