Bolivia: Blueberry prices fall due to the entry of smuggled fruit

Blueberry contraband caused a 10 percent drop in the price of this product, which has consolidated itself as an emerging item for producing families in the south of the country. According to farmers and entrepreneurs, the illegal entry of this fruit into the country puts at risk the consumers' and the regional ecosystem's health, due to a lack of sanitary control.

Peruvian blueberries are offered at a lower cost in different markets of the country, causing a fall in prices. Currently, a box of 125 grams is sold for 20 Bolivianos, while the contraband product is offered between 16 to 17 Bolivianos.

According to Julio Barragan, the Manager of Blueberries for the Agronayade company, Peruvian blueberries began to enter Bolivia three weeks ago. The situation puts at risk the labor stability of the productive chain of Tarija, the country's main producer.

The producers said the Bolivian blueberry's quality was higher than the Peruvian product because of the climatic conditions in the department of Tarija. In addition, the absence of agrochemicals enhances the fruit's flavor and characteristics.

The production of blueberries employs more women and it is gaining strength in Tarija, but Chuquisaca and Cochabamba are also seeking to enter the business.

Barragan said that the foreign product lacked the phytosanitary certification issued in the country of origin. As such, the conditions of its production are unknown, causing a potential risk for the Bolivian consumers.

"To avoid controls, the Peruvian fruit was not kept in refrigerated trucks, so the conditions for the production of fungi and bacteria were ideal," he added.

The general manager of the Marcal company, Sergio Martinez, said that the first blueberry contraband shipments had been discovered in 2016. As a result, the sector began to demand greater control measures to the National Service of Agricultural Health and Food Safety (Senasag).

"The Peruvian blueberry is of poor quality, it has no cold chain, it is not adequately packaged, and does not meet sanitary requirements, which puts at risk producing families," said Martinez.

He also said that the lack of phytosanitary certification of the smuggled products threatened the crops of the department of Tarija, as no pesticides or chemicals are used during their production process.

Meanwhile, Fernando Perales, an organic producer of blueberries located in the town of San Lorenzo, said that country's constant demand for the fruit encourages the entry of illegal merchandise.

"There is a lot of demand and we can not supply the local market, so some people take advantage of this. We do not know how much blueberry goes into the country, as it doesn't pay any taxes or anything," he said.

Blueberry cultivation was promoted by the Government of Tarija and the private sector in 2007 as an experimental program to diversify regional production.

According to data from the Bolivian Institute of Foreign Trade (IBCE), domestic producers exported about US $20,634 to the Netherlands, Germany, and the United Kingdom in 2015.

In 2016, exports to the same countries increased to US $30,182.


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