Tahiti limes from Colombia to the world
Frutas Verdes del Patía focuses on organic, setting an example for other farmer organizations in the country’s most conflict-ridden region
Every day at 6:00 in the morning, Juan Fajardo begins his work in the Tahiti lime fields at his farm ‘La Cabaña’. Despite being only 15 kilometres away, it takes about one hour to drive from the small producer’s farm to the Pan-American Highway in the rural area of El Rosario (northern Department of Nariño), one of 344 Colombian municipalities designated as ‘Most Affected by the Armed Conflict’.
‘As small producers in a post-conflict setting, we face many challenges’, explains Juan. ‘We lack irrigation, have poor road infrastructure and limited access to finance. Very often, my fellow farmers have little knowledge of organic agricultural markets and technology. All of this makes us less competitive in the production and commercialization of our limes.’
Because of these challenges, the 42-year-old Colombian combines his farming activity with leading Frutas Verdes del Patía, a small farmers’ organization which is part of the project ‘Colombia PUEDE: Peace and Unity through Productive Development and Commercialization’, along with 20 other organizations in the municipalities of Leiva, Policarpa, Tumaco and El Rosario.
Thanks to Juan’s leadership, the producers at Frutas Verdes del Patía (literally translated Green Fruits of Patía, a region in Colombia) have become a role model for other farmer’s organizations in the region, with over 180 metric tons of certified organic limes exported to Europe since its establishment in 2018.
However, in recent months, Juan and his colleagues have been facing new challenges, such as buyers’ requirements for new certifications, and the impossibility of selling their limes due to the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.
‘Physical distance and personal protection are our greatest defence against a virus that harms us all and is affecting our economy and our daily lives’, says Juan. ‘But together we will get through this.’
As a response, the International Trade Centre (ITC) has launched a plan to spark the economic recovery of its beneficiaries in the Colombia PUEDE project: Frutas Verdes del Patía will double its membership and attract more women and young producers in the next two years. The farmers are receiving support through instructional videos, radio spots and other materials on crop management and post-harvest handling, which they can access on social media during these times of confinement.
Moreover, Juan and 15 other project participants recently achieved the ‘EU Organic’ certification, thus ensuring the sustainability of their sales. The project is also helping them to develop brand names and images that will help them stand out in the market.
’We have already exported our limes to France, Germany and Poland,’ says Juan joyfully. ‘It is a dream come true. However, there is still a long way to go. We will continue sustainable production processes, not only to protect our natural resources, but also to promote the consumption of healthy food.’
Juan Fajardo is one of 2,000 small producers participating in Colombia PUEDE, an ITC project financed by the European Union, through the European Trust Fund for Colombia.