SILENCE OF THE YAMS

Ecuador 2013 | AGRICULTURE | REVIEW: AGRICULTURE

Ecuador still manages to produce and export its staple foods, but is now looking to increase its presence of cash crops and also its yield per hectare.

The agriculture sector in Ecuador is maturing in regards to the export market as its products become more popular around the world. Ecuador has experienced a period of growth and stability in its agriculture sector as over the past few years it has managed to diversify away from bananas alone. Today, Ecuador has a wide variety of exports including flowers, cocoa, and sugar. “I think that the transformation of the agriculture industry in Ecuador has contributed to making the national economy more dynamic," Roberto Fernández, Manager of Quirola, explained in an interview with TBY. He went on to say that, “Ecuador is on its way to becoming an important sweet corn producer, and I think that, within a few years, we will be able to export this product, while we have traditionally been an importer." This is just one of many areas in which Ecuador is managing to switch its culture of importing higher value crops to that of an exporter. However, a lack of free trade agreements (FTAs) and the conclusion of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) have created barriers for producers to overcome. In June 2013, Ecuador officially stepped out of the ATPDEA, which brought an end to preferential trade tariffs that the US granted Ecuador for over 6,000 products. One of the country's exports that will be affected by this will be cocoa, because 36% of cocoa exports head to the US.

FIELDS OF DREAMS

One of the main crops that Ecuador produces is corn. Over the past decade production has fluctuated somewhat yet still continued to increase to 975,000 annual metric tons in 2012 from a low of just over 200,000 annual tons in 2003.

Production values are expected to increase throughout 2013 and into 2014 as yields move above the 3 metric ton per hectare mark thanks to higher-yield seeds. In 2013, Ecuador is expected to import 400,000 tons of corn, down on 563,000 tons the previous year. Imports have also switched countries. In 2011, 40% of corn imports came from the US, while now that figure is around 2% as market concerns regarding quality and price have meant that Ecuador largely imports from Argentina instead. Consumption has also been steadily rising from slightly above 600,000 annual tons in 2003 to around 1.4 million tons in 2012. However, corn consumption largely depends on the local demand for animal feed and the availability of lower-priced substitutes. Strong annual growth in poultry consumption from 467,000 tons in 2010 to 495,000 tons in 2012 —an increase of 5%— has helped drive the corn business. However, it is expected that in 2013 growth levels will be flat with per capita chicken consumption remaining at around 32 kilograms and the total population at 220 million birds—8 million egg laying birds and 212 million broilers. Egg production has varied, slightly dropping from 2.274 billion in 2010 to 2.15 billion in 2011, but rising marginally to 2.16 billion in 2012. This drop was attributed to lower exports to Colombia triggered by more competitive egg production there. The poultry industry consumes 70% of feed corn annually, while 10% goes to pork production, and 13% to the aquaculture industry. Ecuador is estimated to produce 110,000 tons of pork annually.

Even though pasta is becoming more popular and dietary concerns are beginning to play a factor, rice is still one of the most popular sources of carbohydrate, with per capita consumption per month standing at 1 kilos. The production of rice is expected to increase over 2013 as the population also rises with it, and is predicted to reach around 725,000 tons. Traditionally, rice has been sold either in 45 kilogram sacks by a wholesaler or by the pound in small shops. However, due to changing market demand and a rise in the number of supermarkets setting up in cities and towns, more and more people are opting to buy branded 2-5 kilogram bags. It is estimated that 20% of all rice sales are now made in this way. Other trends include the varieties of rice consumed, with basmati, wild rice, risotto, and sushi rice becoming more popular; still, even for these new variants imports are limited. Currently, rice accounts for 329,000 hectares of arable land.

ROOTS ABOUND

With the potato originating from the Peruvian and Ecuadorean region and having over 600 varieties in the country, it has become one of the most popular vegetables to use in cooking. Although behind corn in total cropped area at 293,000 hectares, potato fields cover 43,600 hectares of arable land in Ecuador. And although production has fluctuated somewhat, it has generally steadily increased over the past decade moving up from close to 239,000 annual tons in 2000 to a high of 413,000 tons in 2004, and then settling at around 339,000 annual tons in 2011. Yields per hectare have also increased a little from 5.63 tons in 2000 to 7.78 tons in 2011. In general, Ecuador has often had a trade deficit of approximately 4,000 tons; however, between 2009 and June 2013 exports spiked at 15,000 metric tons in 2011. The prices of potatoes have been steadily dropping since August 2012 when they were at a high of $24 per 45-kilogram sack. In June 2013, that price had fallen to $11.10 per sack, thus slightly above the trough of $9.66 reached in April 2013.

SWEET DREAMS

Ecuador is the number one grower of flavored cocoa beans used in fine chocolate. In December 2012, exports reached 18,272 tons according to the National Cocoa Exporters Associations, also known as Anecacao, which represented an 8% increase on the year before at 16,918 tons. Of all agricultural output in Ecuador, cocoa production uses the most arable land at 399,467 hectares. In 2011, Ecuador produced 224,163 tons of cocoa, which represented a yield of 0.56 tons per hectare. Average yields have been increasing steadily as techniques and seed quality improve. In 2001, yields stood at 0.26 tons per hectare.

Sugar cane is another major cash crop for the Ecuadoreans with production expected to reach 657,000 tons of raw sugar between 2013 and 2014, a 4% increase on the previous year. This is largely due to an increased amount of land under production and good weather conditions. Ecuadorean producers will yield a surplus of 500,000 tons for this period, which will need to be exported. This surplus will drive down imports of refined and raw sugar into Ecuador. Another boon for the Ecuadorean sugar cane farmers is that prices are also increasing. Sugar cane prices paid to the farmer rose by 7.2% from $27.75 per ton in June 2011 to $29.75 in June 2012. The price of refined sugar also increased from $36 per sack in 2011 to $38.50 in 2012. Per capita consumption of refined sugar increased over the same period from 35 to 37 kilograms per annum. Consumption rates are usually not dictated by changing tastes but more along the lines of price and disposable income.