US safety certificate could quintuple Peru’s exports of indigenous food product

4 June 2015
ITC News

Industry players in Peru expect sales to the United States of America of oil extracted from sacha inchi, a nutrient-rich traditional plant, to jump to US$2.5 million in 2015 following the lifting of a major barrier to trade in their largest export market.

In September, the US Food and Drug Administration approved a submission prepared on behalf of Peruvian exporters with ITC support and classified sacha inchi oil as ‘generally regarded as safe’ (GRAS), a key threshold for exporting large quantities of food products into the US market. Those exports currently hover around US$500,000 annually.

‘At least five American importers were waiting for the GRAS approval to close contracts with us,’ said Juan Manuel Benavides, director of Amazon Health, an exporter of natural ingredients.

‘The US market for ingredients is huge, but the use of ingredients requires GRAS status,’ explained Miguel Navarro, operations manager at Agroindustrias Osho, another exporter in the region.

Sacha inchi, sometimes called Inca peanut, is rich in protein and fatty acids. It is cultivated and harvested in Peru’s Amazon region, including in the San Martin area, where it provides cash income to more than 1,200 families.

Almost a quarter of Peru’s population lives in poverty and around 90% of these live in areas with high biodiversity. Improving the market position and increasing sales of biodiversity-based products represents a unique opportunity to improve the living conditions of farmers and harvesters of those products.

‘Biodiversity trade provides a sustainable means to reduce poverty,’ noted Alex Kasterine, who heads the Trade and Environment Programme at ITC. He estimates that biotrading has the potential to generate 250,000 new jobs in rural communities over the next decade.

In Peru, ITC has provided support to nine exporters of sustainably sourced natural ingredients including sacha inchi and golden berry, a fruit indigenous to South America. The companies received information about international market conditions and export opportunities.

‘Comparative and competitive advantages have been established and the market has been quantified. This information is highly valuable,’ said Pedro Martinto Housman, CEO of Villandina, a social enterprise based in the Peruvian Andes that deals in high quality agro-industrial food products.

Higher incomes for exporters and farmers

ITC assisted the companies and their farmer suppliers in obtaining fair trade certificates. ‘This opens a new market for us: the fair trade market, which we didn’t have access to,’ Martinto added. This would provide higher incomes for the growers, which in turn would improve sustainability of supply, he explained.

The nine companies working with ITC buy from over 10,000 suppliers in the country’s Andes and Amazon regions.

‘The money from the golden berry that we sell is used to educate children, to pay for health and clothing, as well as to feed ourselves,’ reported Humberto Durand Chuquimango, one of the 187 golden berry farmers who received training on fair trade and sustainable growing practices.

SMEs also received support to participate in international trade fairs, where they can display their products, demonstrate their nutritional benefits and establish contacts with potential buyers.

This was particularly important for sacha inchi, which is little known outside Peru, ‘so there is much work to be done and going out to these fairs is a very big opportunity,’ said Carolina Sanchez, sales manager at Shanantina, a Peruvian sacha inchi company.

Next stop for sacha inchi oil:
granola bars and mayonnaise

While negotiating with potential customers at these fairs, the exporters realized that convincing buyers about the nutritional qualities of their products was not enough to close deals: without GRAS status, food companies would be unwilling to use their product as an ingredient. In response, ITC, in partnership with government agencies Promperu and Perubiodiverso, agreed to facilitate preparation of the GRAS submission, which involved both scientific and legal work. Following a seven-month approval process, the certificate was granted in September 2014. Sacha inchi oil may now be used in granola bars, breakfast cereals, chocolates, gravies and mayonnaise, among other products.

‘This opens the door for widespread use as a mainstream food industry ingredient that can capture the interest of companies like Nestle, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo,’ according to Guadalupe Amésquita, sustainable trade officer at Promperu.

GRAS status for one sacha inchi derivative was only the first step, said Diana Flores, an industry expert and ITC’s scientific consultant in Peru. ‘It is essential to have GRAS for sacha inchi protein flour and toasted seeds,’ she said. ‘There is potential demand for these products in the American market, but companies are discouraged from importing them without GRAS status.’

Funders Denmark, Germany, Norway