March 21st, 2019

Colombia: The World’s Pantry

With its strategic location straddling the equator, fertile land, and water resources, it’s no surprise that Colombia is growing its exports to include more than what it’s traditionally been known for: coffee, cut flowers, and bananas.

And agriculture looks like a promising future for the South American country. It’s one of seven countries named by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as having the potential to become the ‘world’s panty’ and attend to the ever-increasing demand of food, which is projected to increase by more than half over the next decade or so.

 

What positions Colombia to become a world leader in agriculture? Location is one thing. It’s tropical climate means that it doesn’t have a seasonal cycle like many countries do — so it can grow all year round and produce diverse harvests.

There’s also the fact that the country is currently producing only a small percentage of what it’s capable of. The Colombian government has identified about 40 million hectares of land suitable for food production — but only 7.6 million hectares are currently being used for it. Harnessing that untapped potential in an efficient way could allow Colombia to produce enough food to supply a good portion of the world’s needs.

Where is the Growth?

In 2017, the Colombian rural economy grew by nearly 5%. This is perhaps unsurprising, given that exports of some goods — like Hass avocados — have grown exponentially over the past few years to meet global demand. In fact, between 2014 and 2015, exports of this variety of avocado grew 188%, from $3.57 million to over $10 million.

In addition to the Hass avocado, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, identified 25 other key products that they believe have high potential for export to international markets. The list includes products like Tahiti limes, cape gooseberries, papayas, bananitos, strawberries, pineapples, processed fruits and vegetables, dairy products, palm, and fish like tilapia and trout. And some of them are already growing substantially.

Palm oil production in Colombia, for example, increased by a whopping 42% in 2017, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce, putting the country behind only Indonesia and Malaysia in terms of production. This expansion is likely to continue as demand for palm oil — particularly sustainably-grown palm oil — stays high.

Pineapple is also having a moment, and Colombia is capitalizing on it. The country was projected to produce around 950,000 tons of pineapple last year. And though Costa Rica is still a leader in pineapple exports, the fruit plays an important role in Colombia’s plan to diversify and increase sales, both internationally and domestically. Year over year, exports of pineapple rose 4% in the first quarter of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017.

Where the Goods Will Go

The U.S. is a major market for Colombian goods, and officials are currently working to accelerate the entry of agricultural products into the U.S. The focus is expanding exports of Hass avocados and securing eligibility for mangoes, pitahaya, and paprika.

Other key countries for Colombian agricultural exports include Chile, Argentina, the Netherlands, France, and Italy. But between Colombia’s incredible agricultural potential and the growing global demand for food, the list is sure to continue to expand.

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