Carlos Abad Ortiz is the ambassador of Ecuador to the UK. In this special opinion post for this month’s Sourcing Spotlight on Ecuador report, the ambassador outlines what UK produce importers stand to gain by sourcing a growing range of products from this exciting Andean country
Essentially, Ecuador is an agricultural country – among the 17 most mega-diverse in the world. Its soils, altitude, climates and the abundance of water characterise Ecuador’s sustainable agricultural output and guarantee two or three harvests a year of those products with a short production cycle.
Ecuador boasts fertile soils rich in organic material. Some 30% of its landmass is volcanic in origin; guaranteeing nutritional quality for a whole range of crops. Despite its relatively small size, more than 7 million hectares are under agricultural production and there is great potential to expand still further.
Given these conditions, Ecuador offers excellent agricultural and agribusiness products and the country is recognised worldwide as a banana producer. We are the world’s leader in exports of this fruit; accounting for more than 30% of global shipments. Ecuador supplies many different varieties too, but the most well known are Cavendish, baby and red bananas.
Most of our banana production is conventional (not organic) and we have already managed to supply UK retailers Tesco and Morrisons very steadily. We think there is potential to grow our banana supply to the UK supermarkets and wholesale markets still further, especially now some growers are achieving Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and organic certifications.
We have seen a significant increase in plantain imports into the UK too. Ecuador is playing its part, and gaining a good share through the wholesale markets and Tesco. As the world-food consumption trend grows in the UK, we see a lot of potential for this product.
Papaya imports from Ecuador have been performing extremely well in recent years; you can find them increasingly frequently at New Covent Garden Market in London and some small, specialist supermarkets such as Whole Foods Market.
Pineapples are following this trend and show great promise for this upcoming year. The reason for this preference is quality and consistency because Ecuador's geographical position benefits fresh produce crops by delivering a richer flavour, bigger sizes and transportation resistance.
Although mangoes are very seasonal in Ecuador (November to February), some importers and supermarkets are considering Ecuador as a second supplier in these months. The fact that Ecuador grows most varieties interests UK importers.
Exotics such as pitahaya and physalis are also looking for their share of the UK market. Some growers are keen to find interested British importers, and some retailers, such as Asda, have even visited some of our growers and their plantations.
Finally, broccoli from Ecuador is a product that shows potential in the UK. There are Ecuadorian growers already exporting and we believe this volume can be increased in the coming years.
By trading with Ecuador, UK receivers get to diversify their sourcing and minimise risk, while Ecuadorian growers can diversify their destinations and dependency on certain markets. Most of the exotics imported into the UK are from Central America, Asia and Africa. But Central America can be threatened by very aggressive weather, and Africa and Asia have experienced phytosanitary issues in the past. A reliable source of top quality fresh produce is always needed, and Ecuador offers that.
Ecuador's government is ever supportive of its growers. In the case of bananas, Ecuador is the only country with legislation that fixes banana prices internally. This is done at least once a year – it could take place more than once if requested by growers or exporters – and it involves growers, exporters and the authorities. They all discuss the banana situation, the international market and any other relevant factors before fixing a minimum price per box to be paid to the growers.
When it comes to other fruit, the Ecuadorian Ministry of Agriculture supports small growers with reduced price fertilisers and free technical assistance. There are also tax breaks and other incentives if a grower is planning to expand plantations. These are open to any producer; either established or new.
Ecuador promotes its exports through the national investments and promotions body ProEcuador. The organisation has 30 offices in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. In the UK, consultations and contacts can be arranged through the commercial office at the Ecuadorian embassy.
Read other articles in PBUK’s Sourcing Spotlight on Ecuador:
How Exquisite Ecuador is emphasising quality supply for niche UK buyers
Ecuadorian banana sector in buoyant mood over prospects for wider UK presence
UK tipped as potential growth market for Ecuadorian mangoes
The forgotten country: why Ecuadorian cuisine deserves its share of glory
Ecuador breathes sigh of relief as El Niño impact proves less severe than anticipated
Making healthy eating moreish with Ecuadorian chef María Ruth Moreno