Latin America is a relevant player in the global organic food sector. The region has an interesting variety of products to offer, achieving high international standards and offering regulatory compliances that intend to strengthen the local production.
Global market for organic products has been increasing at an annual rate of 10% since 2008, and it currently represents a turnover of approximately USD 80,000 million per year globally. In this context, Latin America accounts for 17-20% of the world trade and offers a production that is growing by leaps and bounds.
At the present time, there are about 2.2 million of organic food producers in the world, and 400,000 are located in Latam. Furthermore, about 85% of Latin American organic food production is concentrated in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Mexico. Besides, Argentina is the second country in the world with the biggest area dedicated to organic agribusiness.
Principal Latin American organic food offer
Argentina, Brazil and Chile are strong vegetable exporters, both fresh and dried. Argentina focuses its offer on apples, pears and citrus fruits; whereas Brazil trades apples and grapes. Mexico sells avocados, apples and citrus fruits, and Chile has a staple kiwi export and also offers berries. What is more, when it comes about tropical fruits like bananas, pineapples and mangoes, suppliers from Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Honduras and Dominican Republic are generally considered.
Regarding cereals and grains, Argentina, together with Paraguay, Mexico and Brazil, is a leading organic soybean producer. Southern countries also harvest and export organic corn and wheat.
On the other hand, organic coffee production is concentrated in Mexico, which is the largest producer of the region. These beans are generally harvested by indigenous farmers. Guatemala and other Central American countries have important levels of coffee production with comparable characteristics. These regions also cultivate cocoa for chocolate.
Furthermore, with Brazil leading the list, Paraguay, Ecuador and Argentina produce sugar in the region. Generally sugar mills are run by small farmers organized in cooperatives.
Besides, on the topic of meat, it is remarkable that Argentina, apart from being a large conventional meat exporter, also counts with a strong organic beef production. Brazil and Uruguay offer organic meat too, and Brazilian companies are even acquiring Argentinean processing plants in order to expand their influence. Nevertheless, European and US customers generally prefer some specific meat cuts and the rest that is not required ends up sold in the national market as a conventional product.
Finally, regarding beverages, it is important to mention that Argentina and Chile are major producers of organic wines. Moreover, since organic spirits are just starting to be developed in Latam, there are some initiatives in Mexico for traditional regional spirits, such as tequila, rum and mescal.
Latin American organic food exports
Organic production in Latin America is mainly export oriented. In fact, the region has been increasing its organic food exports in recent years. Between 80% and 90% of the products are sold in EU, US and Japan. Exports cover a wide range of products, including from Central American bananas and coffee grains, to Paraguayan and Brazilian sugar, as well as Argentinean meat.
In the case of US, 70% of organic food imports are from Latin America. Seasonal fruits and vegetables, coffee, spices and tropical products that are not grown in US make up the majority of US purchases. On the other hand, organic food produced in Latam is also sold in European markets, particularly items that cannot be produced in that region due to seasonality.
It is also remarkable that international organic standards and regulations are not a limitation for the actions of Latin American producers in the global field, since they meet the standards required by destination markets. In fact, Argentina and Costa Rica have developed national regulations for organic products according to EU law and they currently have Third Country Status with the European Union. In addition, it is absolutely frequent to find local producers in Latam that hold NOP, JAS, BioSuisse and various European organic certificates, as well as others quality seals. Certification organizations are very active in the region.
Local support & organic certification
During various decades, organic agriculture has been supported mostly from NGOs, which intended to change the economic, social and environmental situation of Latam.
Nevertheless, due to the importance the sector has recently gained, governmental institutions have begun to play a major role in the promotion of organic procedures. Different support mechanisms have been provided in Latam, from promotion of organic culture, to market access assistance, as well as financial support through different governmental programs.
What is more, a relevant process that has been occurring in the region is that organic laws are being passed so as to set standard regulations and promotion of the sector. More recently, Costa Rica, Mexico, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, El Salvador and Bolivia have stablished national laws governing organic production.
Finally, it is worth to mention that some participatory certification systems have lately emerged in the region. Basically, some farmers prefer not to depend on expensive private certification agencies and opt for theses mechanisms to operate in local markets. This system can be found in Brazil, Mexico, and Uruguay.
To sum up, it is worth to mention that Latin America is a relevant player in the global organic food sector. The region has an interesting variety of products to offer, achieving high international standards and offering regulatory compliances that intend to strengthen the local production.
For sure, the diverse countries that compose the region have dissimilar characteristics and propose a specific organic offer. Nevertheless, Latin American supply is considered relevant in the sector as a whole, and yet has a lot of potential to unlock.
- Agencia Argentina de Inversiones y Comercio Internacional (former Fundación Exportar)
- World Bank
- FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)