Mexico: Habanero chilies need changes for export

The President of the Yucatan’s Chili Product System, Mario Alfredo Rios Urcelay, urged producers to change the traditional production culture of the habanero chili and to achieve appropriate financing for the sector in order to meet the international demand for this vegetable.

In an interview, the businessman said the agricultural producers from Yucatan remained entrenched in their habits of cultivation and care of habanero peppers, which are at odds with the international standards needed to achieve export to all international markets that demand this product.

He said Yucatan farmers had the habit of producing and developing the habanero chili through the application of herbicides with toxic chemicals that combat pests, but which impede their safety and having an organic status, which is what customers abroad request.

"Our main problem fighting against traditional production, which is based on the abuse of toxic substances to combat pests," said the official.

He also said producers had to cultivate their crops in bigger spaces, as the local measure used was the mecate, which had an extension of 20 x 20 meters, and that they should start cultivating per hectares (100 x 100 meter extensions).

Additionally, Rios Urcelay said, the current financing schemes prevent farmers, many of which have been trained in safety cultures, from getting the resources needed to cultivate habaneros that comply with the requirements demanded abroad.

These funds are destined to the fields, not to the farmers and they don’t address the real needs of the productive sector, he said, which prolongs the problems that hamper the cultivation of chili with optimum standards.

The leader stated that currently the foreign markets, including Asia and the Middle East among others, demanded 12,000 tons of habanero chilies that complied with safety and traceability demands, which would require 1,200 hectares, with a minimum harvest of 10 tons per hectare.

In this regard, he recalled that safety guaranteed consumption of food products posed no danger to those ingesting them, while traceability was a record of where the foods originated from, including from which seeds.

He added that, thanks to the prospect of exporting, about 1,800 farmers in the entire peninsula had been trained to generate habanero chili complying with the requirement of the external markets. 900 of these farmers are in Yucatán and the rest in Campeche and Quintana Roo.

All of these producers, said Rios Urcelay, can work under contract farming, i.e. they can have a production based on an agreement signed with companies that buy large amounts of the product, but on their terms.

He also stated that the 1,800 producers in the three states of the peninsula could produce more than 12,000 tons, because the demand was good and because the properties of the habanero make it very versatile and give it a wide range of possibilities beyond gastronomy.

For example, he said, the capsaicin (the active component) of the habanero has medical uses, and its oleoresins are also used for caulking ships in order to prevent the moss sticking to their helmets, and in the aviation industry, to protect the wiring in the aircraft so that it’s not bitten by rodents.

The cosmetics industry also uses it to bind products, such as perfumes. The security sector also uses it, as it is an essential component of tear gas, and many other sectors also use it as it has many other uses.

For that to happen, insisted the official, producer need to change their productive culture and Mexican markets need to become more demanding. They should stop buying the product for the sake of buying it, as this gives producers a comfort zone and they become reluctant in improving the sector.

He said the supply centers were the customers that did not care for quality control and considered that this scheme favored the continuous poisoning of the Mexican society.

He stressed that the habanero chili did not originate in Cuba, but in the Amazon in Brazil, and that it was the spiciest chili in the world in its natural state, especially the one grown and harvested in the Peninsula of Yucatan.

As an example, he cited the jalapeño has a pungency (spiciness) of 5,000 units on the Scoville scale, just like the serrano pepper, while the habanero chili had 350,000 units.

He said that other species, such as the Jalisco and the manzanero varieties, could reach up to 250,000 Scoville units in some cases.

There’s also a species that was developed by specialists of the Yucatan Center for Scientific Research (CICY) which is the "Mayan-Kin" (Mayan Sun) and whose pungency reaches 900,000 Scoville units, he said.

Rios Urcelay said the habanero was very spicy because of the soil characteristics in Yucatan, the territory’s alkalinity and environment, which stresses the plant and activates its defence system, which increases its spiciness to protect it against potential enemies.

The white rocks where it grows reflect the sunlight and projected it at the bottom of the vegetable, which leads to the emergence of "annoying peppers", which are very spicy and have a special flavor.

He also recalled that the habanero was one of the first specie of chili in the Yucatan Peninsula to obtain its designation of origin in 2010 and the Official Mexican Norm. So far, he said, it is the only chili to achieve said designation.

In his view, the product grown in the region has the potential to achieve exponential export volumes as they already comply with the number one requirement demanded by international customers: spiciness.

However, producer must also comply with safety requirements, agreed work schemes under contract, and traceability issues.

Source: / With information from Notimex

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