Leo van der Giesen and Marc Dikmans travelled to Central and South America in mid-May to visit local partners and explore potential new opportunities for aartsenfruit. This occasion marked the first time that Marc Dikmans was able to take such a trip and visit production areas. Marc is responsible for exotic species from regions including Latin America at aartsenfruit. He wrote the following account of his and Leo’s travels for nonstopfresh magazine.
Our visit started in Guatemala. Siesa’s Springmuhl family picked us up from the airport. We import pea pods and sugar snaps from the Siesa company. Their total farming operations cover more than 1,300 hectares, producing 80 tonnes of sugar snaps and 50 tonnes of pea pods each week on average. As aartsenfruit has been working with them for over 15 years, now we had the change to visit their company. The family ties between the Springmuhls and the Aartsens are very close, so we received a very warm, gracious and friendly welcome. As much of Guatemala is mountainous, the Siesa plantations are located at elevations between 1,500 and 3,000 metres. After a tour of the fields and warehouse, we discussed the partnership and future. Being able to see everything with my own eyes is good and educational because it gives me an even better understanding of how certain things work.
The next day, we flew to Costa Rica via El Salvador. Leo and I had two days in Costa Rica to visit several growers. During the three-hour car ride from the capital of San José to the Pital region, which is home to our partner Agropecuarios Visa, I was immediately struck by the incredible beauty and verdancy of Costa Rica. As a result of the considerable variation in elevation -- the central Cordilla range runs right through Costa Rica -- as well as the influences of the Caribbean and the Pacific, Costa Rica has a wide variety of micro-climates. Dramatic differences in terms of temperature, precipitation patterns and sunshine can occur within a radius of just a few kilometres. At Visa, our loyal partners for over 15 years, we were welcomed by the Villalobos family: father Gerardo, son Erick and daughter Joselyn. They showed us around their pineapple plantations as well as the warehouse for pineapple, papaya and cassava. With 2,000 hectares of pineapples, which produce an average of 85–90 containers a week (7,500,000 boxes annually), they are one of the largest pineapple growers in Costa Rica. Costa Rica exports approximately 150 million boxes annually. We ended the day by having a delicious dinner with the family.
The next day, we drove to the Upala region to visit another pineapple-growing operation: Upala Agricola. We have cautiously taken the initial steps with these new partners already and have received the first containers of pineapples. Next, we travelled further inland, where Guanacaste was one of our stops. Leo and I spoke with several growers there. We are always working to expand our extremely wide range of products and it all starts with finding good partners.
Our next stop after Costa Rica was Bogotá in Colombia. The capital of Colombia is a modern city with a population of 12 million people. This city is rapidly developing and it felt to me fairly similar to Madrid or Barcelona. After Luis Reyes from Frutireyes gave us a warm welcome, we dined with him and his colleague Andrea Catalina in Bogotá city centre. The next day, Luis picked us up and proudly showed us his company. Frutireyes is located just outside Bogotá and produces golden berries, passion fruit and granadillas for us. The company’s golden berry plantation is 150 hectares, making it the largest in the world according to Luis. After touring the warehouse and farm, we visited the production fields or fincas. Bogotá is 2,600 metres above sea level, while the Frutireyes fincas are situated even higher. It is small wonder that we found ourselves short of breath during our walk. However, the high elevation ensures a stable climate, which is good for farming.
At the end of the afternoon, we boarded a domestic flight to the city of Cali. The Bengala company was expecting us. As we recently started importing pineapples from them, this visit was our first meeting with Mauricio López, Bengala’s operational and commercial manager. In addition to 600 hectares of pineapple, this company also produces sugar cane on 50,000 hectares.
From Cali, we started our journey home, touching down in Panama before arriving back in Amsterdam. To me, this trip was very special and intensive. These visits tremendously strengthen the ties between aartsenfruit and our partners. When you meet and talk with our partners on their turf, they feel completely at ease and are eager to tell you all about their company, products, working methods as well as opportunities. They also talk about the depth of their involvement with aartsenfruit. In addition, it is a great way of getting to know new people. During the course of a week, we saw enough interesting new things in order to serve our customers in the Benelux and Asia even more ‘nonstopfresh’.