The UK is already enjoying mangoes and okra from Nicaragua, but there is promise of more from the largest country in Central America, as Produce Business UK reports
Specifically, and taking advantage of the European Union Central American Association Agreement (EU-CAAA) signed in 2013, Europe is one of the destinations to which Nicaraguan fresh produce exporters would like to increase their sendings.
Guillermo Jacoby Salazar, owner of Ostuma Farms and director of the Nicaraguan association of producers and exporters, APEN, tells Produce Business UK that the UK, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Holland are Nicaragua’s main produce export destinations. In 2015 sendings totalled more than US$303million (£208m) in value.
However, Jacoby adds that this figure represents a fall of 6.8% compared to 2014 “in the context of financial and economic crisis in the European Union”. He also claims the export portfolio “has not changed since the treaty was signed”, apart from three products which are benefiting – bananas, sugar and cane molasses – and exports of bananas alone, he says, are worth some US$4.2m (£2.88m).
Limitations and possibilities
One of the problems that Nicaraguan exporters face when it comes to sending their fresh produce to Europe is the long transit time. On average it takes 23 days to reach the UK market directly by sea-freight, or 18 days to Rotterdam.
And business leaders, such as Diego Vargas Belli – president of TecnoAgro, which exports roots, tubers and grains mainly to other Central American countries and to the US – note that there are “a lot of requirements” that need to be complied with in order to gain access to the European market, including plant certification.
However, on the positive side, Vargas Belli highlights that the Nicaraguan government is promoting quality improvement across all export products, adding that programmes in place for the past couple of years are already helping to encourage such advances.
“Implementation is taking place at all facilities that are focused on exports, with good manufacturing practice (GMP) programmes and good agricultural practice (GAP) schemes in the fields,” Vargas Belli explains. “HACCP systems are also being implemented in order to gain entry to highly competitive markets, including Europe.”
Ginger, cassava and chia
Among the products TecnoAgro exports, Vargas Belli emphasises the potential of fresh ginger and of chia seeds in the British and wider European markets; highlighting their superior quality compared to the offer from other countries in the region.
He highlights cassava too and in the case of Nicaraguan chia seeds in particular, he points out that the product contains more omega 3.6 per gram than chia seeds from other sources.
In general Vargas Belli believes that Europe presents Nicaragua with a window of opportunity that is going to increase. “We know that the European market has a number of attractions, the main one being that it pays a better prices for our products,” he says. “It is also more demanding in terms of quality, but it does pay more and so this is a great advantage for exporters.”
Mabel Arévalo is managing director of the Spanish-Nicaraguan firm AgroEsNica – the main producer, marketer and exporter of okra in Nicaragua. She agrees it’s important to meet the demands of the European marketplace.
“There will always be opportunities in a market as long as you manage to find a product for which there is demand, and a commitment to produce, export and deliver that product with high quality for the end consumer,” says Arévalo.
In this respect AgroEsNica has already made inroads into Europe by finding a market niche for one of its ethnic products. As producers of both the American and Indian okra varieties, the company exports to the UK, France, Italy, Germany and Spain.
And, as far as Jacoby Salazar of APEN is concerned, he also values the market opportunities for organic fruits and vegetables from Nicaragua, such as tubers, dragon fruit, pineapple, coconut, ginger and mango.
But here again there are some logistical setbacks. “For example, high costs and the fact that as a country we lack the port infrastructure, particularly on the Caribbean coast,” he says.
He also emphasises “the need to comply with private-sector standards”, such as GlobalGAP, as well as “compliance with regulations governing the management of chemical residues in products”. Salazar also bemoans the lack of certified organic inputs available to the sector in Nicaragua as a hindrance to expansion.
Looking ahead, however, overall the potential for fresh produce exports from Nicaragua to Europe looks to be full of possibilities. This is provided that economic recovery in the Old World continues and that in Nicaragua the commitment to production incentives and to improving standards endures.