With the support of government-backed Sierra Exportadora, pulse producers in northern Peru are looking to expand their menu.

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The arid coastal region of Piura in Northern Peru is considered the center of production for the country’s top pulse export: black-eyed peas. Known locally as frijol castilla or frijol caupi (the latter derived from the English name “cow pea” due to its use as stock feed for bovines), black-eyed pea production has grown steadily in recent years.

According to the Peruvian newswire Peru21, last year’s export value was US$ 28.7 million, up 38% from 2011. Between 2006 and 2010, black-eyed pea production grew from 13,575 to 19,747 MT, while total harvested area increased from 7,254 to 11,520 ha. Despite relatively low yields mostly due to technological limitations, Peruvian black-eyed peas fill a gap in the global supply of a generally cheap (around $1.10/kg) and high-demand pulse crop.

“[Black-eyed peas] are grown in many regions abroad but often cannot be harvested due to climate problems. That’s where we come in to supply them,” says José Manuel Hernández, general manager of the Peruvian consulting firm Asesores Técnicos. Peru is unique among black-eyed pea-producing countries in that it enjoys year round production.

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For producers in Piura, however, black-eyed peas offer somewhat of a mixed blessing. Many have become overly dependent on the cash crop and have suffered consequences when international demand is sluggish. Frijol caupi has become somewhat of an “all or nothing” crop in the region, one that presents a significant risk for small-scale farmers who have no control over global demand.

This year, for example, the average price for black-eyed peas through May was $1.01/kg, down 13% from last year’s average of $1.16/kg. Prices peaked in early 2012, reaching $1.42/kg in February, but have seen a steady decline since then. The average price of black-eyed peas sunk as low as $0.99/kg in January 2013. Production has also decreased significantly; the current monthly average for production is 1,169,822 kg compared to last year’s average of 2,055,717 kg.

Recently the organization known as Sierra Exportadora, which operates under the auspices of the Peruvian Government, has been working closely with local producers and farmers’ organizations to address the issue of black-eyed pea dependence. The main goals of the initiative are to provide greater added value to products and develop new pulse varieties especially adapted to Piura’s unique climate, thus diversifying farmers’ options beyond black-eyed peas.

“There are technical reasons that support the need to diversify production. We have to minimize the risk of gaining little or nothing due to the price volatility of black-eyed peas,” says Oswaldo Sandoval, head of Sierra Exportadora’s Center for Economic Development in Piura.

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Table 1. Peruvian Black-Eyed Pea Exports

2013

2012

FOB Kilos Avg. Price FOB Kilos Avg. Price
1,579,797 1,588,287 0.99 1,965,528 1,394,303 1.41
1,716,055 1,740,932 0.99 2,041,598 1,439,151 1.42
1,101,733 1,072,359 1.03 2,209,318 1,592,340 1.39
836,260 786,213 1.06 1,617,128 1,213,376 1.33
686,051 661,321 1.04 3,642,169 2,906,604 1.25
4,285,374 3,979,136 1.08
3,129,122 2,986,816 1.05
2,234,030 2,176,893 1.03
1,461,577 1,404,490 1.04
2,040,983 1,755,642 1.16
2,013,482 1,851,250 1.09
2,043,408 1,968,597 1.04
5,919,896 5,849,112 1.01 28,683,718 24,668,599 1.16
1,183,979 1,169,822 2,390,310 2,055,717
-50% -43% 38% 48% -6%
 

Introducing New Peruvian Pulses

About half a dozen pulse varieties have been proposed through the Piura initiative, including alternative types of dry edible beans, dry peas and faba beans. Angel Valladolid, director of the agribusiness consultancy Pro Menestras Tex and member of Peru’s Bean Board (Mesa de Menestras), has recommended the bean varieties Bayo Mochica, Alubia 3011 and Canario 2000; pea varieties Rondo, Alderman, Donoso and Holantao (also known as Chinese pea); and the faba bean variety Munay Angélica.

Instituto Nacional de Investigación Agraria (National Agrarian Research Institute) or INIA has been working to develop the new varieties, which will soon be available to producers in the region. However basic units are still needed before the seed can be reproduced on a large scale, Valladolid said.

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The Sierra Exportadora project is not the first initiative designed to develop Piura’s pulse industry. In 2010 the Spanish foundation Ayuda en Accion (Help in Action) contributed US$ 75,000 towards the construction of a much-needed grain processing plant in Morropón Province. The plant enables the processing of up to two metric tons of black-eyed peas and other pulses per hour. Like the Sierra Exportadora project, the processing plant initiative was conceived as a way to increase local farmers’ participation in the production chain while decreasing the presence of intermediaries.

Last year, Sierra Exportadora worked closely with members of Asociación de Productores de Morropón (Morropón Producers Association) or ASPMOR, managing dual business plans that raised a total of 1 million soles (US$ 358,038) in sales from pulses grown on the group’s collective 527 hectares. Oswaldo Sandoval said his organizations will continue this type of work this year through new partnerships and investment.

“The business plan we are preparing for this year will allow the organization to achieve the best postharvest treatment and begin to create new seed varieties,” says Sandoval.

Sierra Exportadora also hopes to recover prices for black-eyed peas and improve overall quality. The average grower price has dropped to 1.70 soles/kg (US$ 0.61), but the organization believes it can bring it back up to 2.10 soles/kg (US$ 0.75) by the end of 2013.

Nelson Mío Reyes, mayor of Morropón, announced recently during a meeting with Sierra Exportadora president Alfonso Velásquez that his municipal government will invest 400,000 soles (US$ 143,215) in the project. Through the national government’s PROCOMPITE initiative, all mayors are permitted to allocate 10% of their annual budget towards improving local agriculture production.