The certification process conducted by MANGOSA before exporting fruit to the United States begins in the fields and includes a treatment that consists of submerging the mangoes in hot water.
The three Nicaraguan mango varieties that reach the shelves of supermarkets and stores in the United States goes through a rigorous certification process that begins in the plantations and ends in the processing plant. The ultimate goal is that the fruit that arrives to the US is to be healthy, free from all kinds of insects, especially from the Mediterranean fruit fly and the mango fly.
A document signed by an official of the Agricultural Health Inspection (APHIS), of the USDA, ensures that each container leaving the 300-hectare estate owned by MANGOSA and located in El Jicaral, meets all the requirements of the US Government.
The certification process, which also involves an inspector of the Institute for Protection and Animal Health (Ipsa) of Nicaragua, begins by placing traps in the plantations. The certification program dates from 1994, when mango exports to the US began. That year 300,000 boxes of this fruit were exported.
According to Lloyd Garcia, an Aphis official who visited MANGOSA last week as part of an annual monitoring, after the Government of Nicaragua requested to export mangoes, over two decades ago, the Department of Agriculture assigned a group of scientific to make a risk assessment to determine if the import of that fruit would threat the environment in the United States in any way.
In that process, he said, they identified the biggest pest as the fruit fly (Anastrepha obliqua; Macquart). "Based on this assessment, the US government told Nicaragua they could export if they followed a process that would mitigate risks," Garcia said. The mitigation process established was to monitor the populations of this insect by placing traps for it where the mango was grown.
Since then, the Government has guaranteed the mitigation plans are performed not only in mango plantations but beyond via the Phytosanitary Surveillance Program, implemented by Ipsa with funding from the USDA.
Nicaragua has installed traps in nearly 587 square kilometres and in a 217-kilometre buffer zone. In 2009, the area was declared free of the Mediterranean fruit fly and it currently has a low prevalence of mango fly.
When the mango arrives to the processing plant it goes through a process that minimizes the possibility that the fruit contains any larva. The treatments are designated depending on the mangoes' size and are carried out in all the places where the fruit is exported to the United States.
The first step in the processing plant is to take a sample. For exports between one and 100 boxes they take a piece of fruit out of one in every 3 boxes; for exports between 100 and 200 boxes they take a sample from every fourth box, and so on. The mangoes that are chosen are cut open, including the seed, to verify if they have beetles or flies.
The next step in treatment is the skimming and calibration of the fruit, and then they go through a hydrothermal process.
Marcos Gonzalez, supervisor of Aphis for Nicaragua and Costa Rica, explained that this "treatment ensures that, if the mango has some larvae they will die."
After the hydrothermal process, the mango is pre-cooled, packed, and put in a cold room for two to three hours. The final stage is to introduce the goods in the container.
The fly's threat
If a fly enters America and reproduces it could cause huge losses to the citrus industry, which is very strong there. This in turn would cause the sector to necessarily invest many millions of dollars to eradicate the outbreak.
Lloyd Garcia recalled that they had had to invest $4 million dollars to contain a small outbreak in Florida.
Marcos Gonzalez said the program would be closed if a living fly larva were found in one of the containers. "It already happened in 2007. A program was closed and there had to be a full investigation so it could be reopened. This program has worked in Nicaragua since the 90s and there have been zero interceptions so far. No pest has been detected."
"We wouldn't have a business without Ipsa or Aphis," said Esther Incháustegui, general manager of MANGOSA.
"There is an international protocol and there are three parties involved: Aphis, Ipsa and the business companies. In Nicaragua, MANGOSA is the only company exporting mangoes to the US. None of us can do anything without the others," she added.
The harvest in MANGOSA lasts between 10 and 12 weeks, from the last week of January to the third week of April, and generates 780 jobs. "Mexico is our biggest threat in terms of volume, so our harvest lasts between 10 and 12 weeks; the shorter the better, because we can make the best of the window of opportunity. 85% of our fruit goes to America."
This year prices have fallen, said Incháustegui. "Last year, the 4-kilo box was between $7.80 and $9 dollars. This year it is between $5.5 and $6.5 dollars. This is partly due to the climate, the mango is a summer fruit and America's winter has been unusual." Additionally, "if Mexico anticipates its offer, there is a very high supply and prices decrease," she said.
According to forecasts, this year MANGOSA will export 1,160,000 boxes of mangoes to the United States. MANGOSA exports three varieties: Tommy Atkins, Keitt and Ataulfo.