Avocados and Guinea Pigs Change Life for Peruvian Farmers

Avocados and Guinea Pigs Change Life for Peruvian Farmers

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Posted
9/30/13
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Story and photos by Allen Clinton LURICOCHA, PERU

Hector Gutierrez walks through his avocado grove just after the trees have been irrigated. Water glistens on the leaves as he pulls down the brim of his cap to shade his eyes from the sun. He talks about working long days on haciendas (large farms) as a boy and, more recently, how locals from this remote town in the saddle of the Andes had resisted Shining Path militants. The 66-year-old farmer grips a fully grown avocado with one hand and holds the branch in the other. With even pressure, he pulls the fruit straight down to remove it from the tree, then cleanly snips the tip down to 2 millimeters. The avocado, which he calls linda (beautiful girl), is placed in a basket. After sorting the fruit for imperfections, they’re sent off to the market. In the past eight years, Hector has gone from being a poor subsistence farmer to avocado exporter and guinea pig guru.

Turning ideas into livelihoods

Known as palta in many South American countries, avocados have long grown wild in Peru. But until 10 or 20 years ago they were seldom cultivated as a cash crop. In 1993, there were only 30 hectares (75 acres) dedicated to growing avocados commercially in the country. The avocado is now one of the most important of Peruvian fruits, as evidenced by its demand in foreign and domestic markets and the high prices paid for it. It has become a popular crop because of its nutritional properties, particularly the high concentration of protein and unsaturated oils and no cholesterol.

Hector’s avocado varieties

Hass: Originally from California. Most popular for export to the U.S. and Europe. The fruit is pear-shaped with a rough, thick skin that turns dark purple and softens when ripe. The fruit can remain on the tree some time after maturity without l/work/womens-empowerment/womenosing its quality. Oil content ranges from 18 to 22 percent. Usually harvested between March and May.

Fuerte (Strong): A medium-sized green avocado that is a hybrid of Mexican and Guatemalan varieties. The slightly rough skin separates easily from the meat. Popular on salads in Peru. Oil content ranges from 18 to 22 percent. Usually harvested in February and March. 

Linda (Beautiful Girl): Native to Peru. A giant green avocado that weighs over 3 pounds, offering up to 10 times the flesh as a standard Hass or Fuerte. Superb creamy texture, thin skin and sold in Peruvian markets. Stays on trees for one year to achieve its exceptional size; big enough to make a dish of guacamole.

Switching from traditional crops to avocado cultivation is more complicated than simply planting avocado pits salvaged from the latest batch of guacamole. It requires land, irrigation, proper spacing, organic fertilizer, selecting the ideal variety, access to markets and commitment to creating an effective value chain. Hector and 18 other farmers in Luricocha, including five women, have embraced the challenge.

 

“We work together to overcome poverty,” says Hector, who grows Hass, Fuerte and Linda avocados. “Before, when we didn’t have money, our hands went up in the air and no one came to help. Today we are improving our lives and incomes with support from CARE.”

© Hector Gutierrez

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