Cusco is changing and the excellent Hass avocados exported from rural Limatambo are an example.
Limatambo, some 80 kms. from the capital city of Cusco on the highway to the coast, styles itself the avocado capital. It has a Festival de la Palta, as avocados are known here, and the central town’s main square is decorated with avocados in cement and metal to show their importance to this region.
An ancient way station on the Qhapaq Ñan, the Imperial Highway to Chinchaysuyo, the Southwest quadrant of the Inca state, it occupies a good position. It has highlands producing potatoes, quinoa and more, middle lands for corn, and lowish valley floors where tropical fruit, such as avocados, can be grown.
A few short decades ago, these ecological zones were linked to each other in a social organization of exchange and feasting, but that has tended to break apart as each has been drawn into regional, national, and now international markets.
This year, the Agrícola Matilda from Limatambo made its first direct shipment of some 300 tons of Hass avocados to Europe. Set up to benefit small-scale indigenous producers, this company depends on 52 hectares of avocado plants between 1.5 and 5 years of age. The vast majority, some 90%, of their trees are Hass while the rest are Fuerte. The latter are destined fro the Peruvian market while the former go to Europe.
To accomplish this task of direct export, something generally beyond the means of small farmers in Andean communities, Agrícola Matilda benefits from a number of things. Its owners are a married Swiss-Limatambo couple who have access to both worlds. Limatambo and nearby regions of Apurimac are excellent for the commercial production of Hass avocados and benefit from technical support through local government as well as through Sierra Exportadora set up by the Ministerio de Agricultura y Riego (Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation) to aid in the development of plantings able to be exported in that they meet the technical requirements of export markets, such as Europe, and can pass inspections to those ends, and in establishing connections with exporters and importers.
In this case, Agrícola Matilda was assited by an Israeli firm Mehadrin Tnuport Export which “is Israel’s largest grower and exporter of citrus, fruits and vegetables, and is a leading global supplier of the world renowned JAFFA brand.” The partnership is important for bringing knowledge and contacts on which the small enterprise Agrícola Matilda can rely.
Finally, the avocados of this region are harvested between December and March when there is a gap in the supply required by the European Community, opening an important window of possibility.
Though Limatambo characterizes itself as the avocado district and has been an important supplier of avocados to Cusco for some time, however this new export business required difficult things. Unlike traditional cultivations where avocado trees appear among other food-producing plants, a system called intercropping, commercial export requires a variety specific for the market, the Hass. It must be the only crop plant in the fields, a system called monocropping, in order to allow for the control and accounting required by international markets. Furthermore, the producers must invest in appropriate packing sheds and materials for shipment as well as materials and methods for keeping records of the fruit.
The process is daunting and has kept many traditional growers of avocados from entering the export market.
In the past, fruit of varied sizes and qualities would have been purchased by intermediaries who would grade them and ship them to Peruvian markets. Agrícola Matilda has developed direct connections, though they require the shipment of precise sizes and qualities of fruit, though it is costly to do so. The cost is mitigated by the prices they can obtain through direct shipping into the European market.
Limatambo and Agrícola Matilda are making radical changes in Cusco, its communities, culture, and agriculture creating economic benefit as well as concerns over the loss of culture and identity.