Highlight / December 5, 2020

Could Colombian Limes Repeat Avocado’s Success?

Colombia’s success with the avocado has made waves in the global agriculture community. 

One of the great success stories of emerging market agriculture, Colombia has increased its avocado exports by over 600% over the last 5 years, thanks to a concerted effort by the government and the private sector. 

These efforts have finally allowed the country to leverage its vast potential as an agricultural producer, a trend which the country hopes to broaden into other sectors. Although the country features ideal proximity to markets along with suburb climate and soil conditions, it has struggled to scale up its ag industry. 

Colombia is beginning to realize the value that can be created by focusing intently on development, opening up opportunities for other crop sectors to repeat the success that Colombia has seen with avocados. 

With the groundwork already laid, another agricultural boom could be right around the corner. 

Colombian Avocados: Green Gold

Colombia has big plans for its avocado sector. 

“We want the total export value of avocados to exceed $100 million in 2020,” said agriculture minister Rodolfo Zea.  

The country is certainly not far off the mark. In 2019 Colombia recorded a total export value of $98 million – up a staggering 2000% over the last 5 years. 

How was this tremendous growth rate achieved? Interestingly, the Colombian avocado boom didn’t seem to come from a corresponding scale-up in production. 

Although the country did increase its production significantly between 2014 and 2019, the real key to success for Colombia came through trade agreements. 

“We hope to finish the process to enter the Korean market before 2020 ends. Last year we opened the Chinese and Japanese markets, which are part of the top 10 avocado importers worldwide to which Colombia can export this fruit,” said Zea. 

The government has placed a major focus on avocado exports, hosting the World Avocado Congress in Medellin last year and committing to new trade agreements with the UK and the EU. 

Another factor in Colombia’s success has been the Productive Alliances program, a government-run initiative to coordinate growers and exporters in order to increase the efficiency of the supply chain while bringing development to poor rural areas. 

The Productive Alliances have been able to “contribute to the competitiveness and business development of the country’s most vulnerable rural communities. These alliances have allowed us to link more than 50,000 producers to the ‘Coseche y Venda a la Fija’ strategy (Harvest and Secure Sales strategy), where producers achieve selling their production in advance,” said Minister Zea. 

The Productive Alliances program has been a major feature of the government’s effort to support the ag industry, and its widespread focus ranges from sustainability to social impact to marketing to infrastructure.

But at the end of the day, it’s the quality and availability of the product that has made Colombian avocado such a popular commodity. The country can supply markets for 10 months out of the year, even during the low season in Mexico, the world’s dominant exporter. 

Colombia features an ideal climate all year round, ideal water conditions, and a wealth of natural resources. But these benefits extend to more sectors than the avocado. 

Colombian Limes: Green Gold Part 2

When it comes to high-value tree crops, many of the natural and economic benefits that exist for avocado are also true for lime. 

Lime requires many of the same soil and climatic conditions as avocado: temperate climates, a strong balance between sunlight and rainfall, well-drained soil, etc. Indeed, lime in Colombia is generally grown in the same regions as avocado: Antioquia, Manizales, Caldas, Valle del Cauca, and others.

Production of Tahiti lime in Colombia: 86,297 tons, 4,580 hectares, primary destinations are the US and EU

With about the same time horizon as avocado, many lime plantations were introduced in the past couple of years in an attempt to ride the wave of the avocado boom. Now, as these plantations near the beginning of their productive lives, Colombia could experience a lime boom as well.

There’s another common factor between Colombian avocado and lime: both have the seasonality to be able to fill gaps in the market when production volumes from Mexico and Brazil decline. Production generally drops in the winter, resulting in a price spike that can hugely benefit Colombian lime. 

Yearly fluctuations in lime prices

Indeed, Colombia is already the world’s fastest growing exporter of limes, surpassing Mexico and Egypt for the top spot. 

Colombian limes have gained a reputation in international markets for their rich, vivid coloration and high juice content. For markets in Europe, where consumers generally shop with their eyes, the striking emerald color of Colombian limes is a major advantage. 

Colombia’s variety of altitudes and high fertility levels across the country also play in the country’s favor. “From my point of view, and compared to other markets, Colombia offers the most important natural elements for fruit production,” says Tony Bucio, CEO of GreenFruit Avocados, which recently committed to planting 60,000 avocado trees in the country. 

The CEO continued: “There is great human potential; many people are prepared and qualified as agronomists, growers, and staff, willing to work the land and produce.” The benefits enjoyed by the avocado sector apply to lime as well. 

What’s Next for Colombian Lime?

With avocado, Colombia enjoyed one of the biggest agricultural booms in recent memory. But it didn’t happen by accident. 

The same type of coordinated effort to improve growing practices and increase the efficiency of supply chains will be needed for Colombian lime to repeat avocado’s success. 

The government will also have a role to play. But with the great success that Colombia has seen in expanding its trade agreements and opening up new markets for its agricultural goods, the future looks bright.

Exports of Colombian limes are growing rapidly, and the county’s products are building a reputation for quality and year-round availability that sets them apart from the competition. 

Colombia’s success with avocados is already paving the way for a similar trajectory, not only with limes, but with other high-value permanent crops like mangos and coconuts. The country has seen strong results – and it seems that Colombia’s ag sector is just getting started.

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