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Sourced by hundreds of smallholder farms, a Colombian food company is skirting traditional sales channels at home and making progress in export markets like Canada, the U.S. and Spain.
PMDI owner Pablo Barriga toldwww.freshfruitportal.com his company’s policy was to make sure customers or consumers truly understood the benefits of organic agriculture before making a sale.
“Organics are based mainly in the ecological part of technical agriculture, but ecology includes people so if someone wants to be socially responsible they have to respect the health of the soil and its sustainability so that it has a future,” he said.
“Sustainable agriculture guarantees that in some way this earth will be able to produce more in the future than it does now.
“That’s precisely contrary to conventional agriculture which produces a lot today and little by little it produces less – then, in some years’ time it doesn’t give you any more, whether it’s rice, potatoes or other crops.”
He emphasized organic agriculture was a lot more than just ‘not using chemicals’ and needed a strong social component as well. It’s a philosophy that has caught the attention of shoppers at home and importers abroad.
“We were in the AgroExpo in Bogotá, the national trade fair for agriculture, and we had a list for people to register if they agreed with our principles and wanted organic food delivered to them. In five days 2,000 people joined our network,” Barriga said.
With fresh products like physalis (golden berries), gulupa, limes, aromatic herbs and baby vegetables, as well as processed goods like bread, dairy items, coffee and jams, Barriga sells around 80% of his supply to people’s homes while 10% is exported.
“We are in seven departments of Colombia working with 650 growers associated in groups of 20-30 people – the biggest landholding is half a hectare, so these are very small farms.
“This is oriented toward a vulnerable population – what we do is we sell a product that is safe in a stable market…there has to be an added value that justifies transport.
“Recent statistics have shown 43% of people in the Colombian countryside live in total misery. The problem with agriculture in Colombia is not whether it’s organic or not, whether there are highways or not; the problem with agriculture in Colombia is the market and that growers are in the hands of intermediation.”
But how does Barriga get around the conundrum when he himself is an intermediary?
“The only way is to not use conventional trade channels. We created a delivery market, and specifically we pay under conditions of fair trade to our providers,” he said.
“As a trader of organic food, which is my function, I have to be responsible for the whole chain. I don’t want plastics that contain BPA, our paper packages are made of sugarcane paper and as our plastic is PLA it is compostable.”
Barriga highlighted the fundamental problem for the organic industry was quantity.
“People need large amounts of food but in Colombia the organic production is generally small, and small growers have orchards that don’t have export capacity,” he said.
“They don’t send anything because the transport is not justified. So the only way for it to be viable is to bring many growers together and organize them for the market. That’s what we do,” he said.
He said 20% of growers were organically certified, and claimed the rest produced in an organic way but were still in the process of certification which would likely be completed soon.
When asked whether he had a message for organic growers and traders around the world, Barriga had one key point – ‘polyculture, not monoculture’.
“There is a fundamental part of organics, which is the prohibition of monoculture. I can’t take a hectare of just lettuce – as organic as that could be, it’s not ecological,” he said.
“I see that here even though there is a trade in organics, it continues to be in monoculture. A buyer doesn’t come to me and ask which products I can provide; he tells me what products he needs.
“He says ‘I want avocados’, but when I go to one of my providers I can’t say ‘only produce avocados’.
“This is a message we need to make for the whole global organic sector. Please, agriculture ought to be from polyculture, not monoculture. I won’t say to a grower ‘only produce pineapples or only produce physalis because that’s what European consumers want’.”