By Francisca Gálvez V.
With a background in agronomy, followed by two years of studies in sociology, economics and anthropology, Peruvian entrepreneur and PhD, Carlos Samaniego, came to an understanding that the real problem facing small farming shareholders in the rural areas of the Andean highlands was not technological, but mainly an economic and political issue. He centered his doctorate thesis in a study of peasant agriculture in the Andes.
After years of teaching at Peruvian universities and a period working abroad with the United Nations’ agency ILO, Mr. Samaniego returned to Peru hoping to use his knowledge and understanding of the Andes to improve farming in the region.
Since most of the ancient crops like cacao, maca and yacon were still growing on marginal lands, he first aimed to support the family farms in order to increase their productivity and improve their standard of living. The strategy to increase demand for these traditional foods in the national and foreign markets, was promoting them as food supplements or functional foods, because of their high nutrient and bio-active content.
Samaniego founded Ecoandino in 1998, in association with a group of agrarian university professors who recognized the value of traditional Andean foods, with the mission of providing the world market with these quality products.
Since these crops were unknown to most agronomists, manufacturers and traders, the first challenges the company had to face were related to the reluctance of human resources to work with ancient foods and their reticence to move to the countryside; the difficulty in obtaining financial support; and suitable machinery and basic services such as electricity, drinking water and proper living conditions.
Today Ecoandino produces a variety of raw foods; mainly cacao, maca, yacon, lucuma, incan berries and camu camu of the highest quality, which is ensured by the company controlling the whole chain of production, from cultivation of raw materials to the processing and final marketing.
“We give great importance to research in cooperation with well know Peruvian universities, such as Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, with which we have introduced organic micro-organisms as efficient fertilizers. We are beginning a system of greenhouses for the production of two harvests per year of maca roots at more than 4,000 meters above sea level. We have also begun studies with Pontificia Universidad Católica in Perú, on the effects of sun drying in the quality of maca roots,” says Jenny Carhuas of the marketing department at Ecoandino.
The consumer market for Ecoandino is formed by demanding international customers, with good knowledge of the relationship between quality of food and the quality of health.
“This group is growing in spite of the global financial crisis, especially in industrialized countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and Asian markets like China and Japan. China and Brazil are fast growing marketplaces for Andean foods too, especially maca. This group of consumers is also increasing in importance in Peru and other countries of the region, and we hope its future consolidation,” says Ms. Carhuas.
Ecoandino received its first organic certification in 2002, the Kosher seal in 2007, and Fair Trade in 2011. The company has shown continued growing exports. It built the most modern organic food processing plant in the Mantaro Valley, located in Concepción (Junín Region), which officially opened this year. All production is concentrated at this plant that employs 100 direct workers and 614 family owned farms.
The main objective of the company now is developing products with added value and packing them specifically for retail; also creating intermediate raw materials for distributors.
“The demand we have created for certain new products has provided the farmers with new challenges in the production and planning of new crops. For example, we plan to expand our growth opening a new company dedicated exclusively to the marketing of cacao products,” Ms Carhuas says.
ADEXIn 2013, the Peruvian Exporters Association, , awarded Ecoandino as the Agro Exporter of the year, with sales to more than 30 countries supporting a large number of family farms.
This year the firm exhibited at SIAL China, Expoalimentaria Peru, and in November will be present at the Expo Peru New York, organized by the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism (MINCETUR), and PROMPERU, as a strategy to continue expanding in the American market. In 2015, Ecoandino will be present at BIOFACH in Germany.