RAÚL VILLACRÉS

Ecuador 2020 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

Representing 70% of Ecuador's banana exports, AEBE has worked hand in hand with the state to support the circulation of better agricultural, social, and environmental practices in the sector.

Raúl Villacrés Vanegas
BIOGRAPHY

Raúl Villacrés Vanegas has a degree in foreign trade engineering with a specialization in business. His experience in the Ecuadorian banana sector began two decades ago, when he joined the Association of Banana Exporters of Ecuador (AEBE) as deputy executive director and on two occasions as executive director. This association brings together companies that ship 70% of the bananas exported weekly. He has participated in international congresses and negotiation tables of international treaties.

What have been the latest developments in the banana industry, especially in terms of diversifying exports to new markets?

We must highlight the opening of Ecuador as a country. In 2017, the FTA with the EU entered into force, which led us to improve the participation in that market under the same conditions as Colombia, Peru, and Central America. We continue our consolidation in the Russian market, which is the first destination country of Ecuadorian bananas and makes up 23% of all exports in 2019. It should be mentioned that Ecuador has a participation of 95% in this market. Additionally, since 2018 Ecuador has been expanding its banana export map to South Korea, Japan, and China, although we have tariffs that are superior to those of our competence. Fruit quality improves the perception, the purchase of importers and consumer demand. Another market with an excellent performance is the Middle East. Our exports are in the rise thanks to an improvement in the political situation. Instead of reexporting from Turkey to those markets, some ships deliver directly in countries of those markets. Nevertheless, the region growing at a rapid pace is Africa, especially North Africa, including countries like Algeria and Tunisia, register a 132% of increase in 2019 as compared with 2018. This great performance in exports is reflected in a greater economic and social impact. Banana plantations represent 200,000ha, about 450,000 direct workers, and 50,000 indirect employees related to the rest of the chain; the banana sector represents 3% of Ecuador's GDP.

How has AEBE helped producers of all sizes become increasingly aware of Fusarium and ways to protect crops against it?

Since 2009, AEBE has been working on contacting the best experts and researchers in Fusarium so that, within our international event, they can give the best recommendations to the producing sector and the national government in order to be better prepared, proof of which are the regulations that AGROCALIDAD has promulgated on the subject. Ecuador's minister of agriculture has led meetings with his Latin American counterparts to establish regional procedures such as contingency plans and biosafety protocols to prevent as much as possible the advance of Fusarium in Colombia. The biosecurity protocols allow us to protect our plantations to prevent the spread of Fusarium and to manage the situation should the disease occur and ensure that it does not spread as rapidly as it did in the Philippines or China. AEBE has worked with governments to encourage cooperation entities such as the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) to organize summits to establish regional contingency plans from Mexico to Argentina. We need a regional plan for the import of banana species that can work in Latin American plantations and that are resistant to this threat. We are working with IICA to support ongoing training for small farmers and workers. From 2015, we have a regulation that requires all containers arriving in the country either full or empty and regardless of their origin, to be fumigated before leaving port terminals.

What can we expect from the evolution of AEBE?

This association turned 21 years old. We started with five companies and are currently 50. We represent 70% of Ecuador's banana exports and 35 companies of the rest of the productive chain. We have worked hand in hand with the state to support specific issues. We have also worked with the government on the implementation of a successful program called SANIBANANO along with the phytosanitary entity for better control in banana plantations and ports to ensure the phytosanitary quality of Ecuador. We must have solid agricultural, social, and environmental practices, as that is what the future market demands. Every week, we have new challenges that are being overcome by the producers.