Blueberry farming in Peru has seen remarkable development in recent years. In 2022, the South American country became the world’s largest exporter of blueberries for the fourth year in a row, with overseas blueberry sales generating more than $1.3 billion in national income that year alone. With the rapid development of blueberry plantations in the south of Peru, the country is experiencing an agricultural boom that is expected to continue as the global demand for blueberries rises. Here’s why Peru’s thriving blueberry industry, which took shape in less than a decade, is promising for poverty reduction and equitable economic growth.
Agricultural Poverty in Peru
Peru’s economic growth has already significantly helped to reduce poverty and promote development. In 2018, the country’s poverty rate decreased to 20.5% and extreme poverty fell from 11.2% in 2007 to 2.8%. However, there is still significant agricultural poverty in Peru, with many smallholder farmers facing more challenges to life and livelihood than urban dwellers. These include food insecurity, reduced life expectancy and socioeconomic inequalities that limit access to income and health care. Underscoring the disparity, poverty impacts 44% of Peru’s rural population yet only 15.1% of the urban population. High poverty levels in Peru’s rural regions have resulted in widespread “migration to urban centres, where market activity offers greater livelihood options.” Consequently, about 75% of Peruvians now live in or near urban centers hoping to secure a better standard of living.
Peru’s Blueberry Plantations
The agricultural sector has been critical for the country’s economic growth. Seasonal exports such as avocados, grapes, asparagus and more recently, blueberries have helped Peru develop one of Latin America’s strongest economies. With the ability to now cultivate an estimated 50 varieties of blueberries, with some specifically developed to thrive in the Peruvian climate, blueberry farming in Peru has seen great success. And this success is due to the country’s long growing days, large areas of arable land and the ability to export to markets in Asia and the Americas. Applying proven crop management practices, many of the new blueberry varieties developed and grown in Peru have longer harvesting periods and classify as better-quality fruit. Furthermore, innovations have been made to develop varieties that can withstand longer shipping times and guarantee longer shelf lives without increased costs for producers.
Highlighting the rapid progress of blueberry farming in Peru, the country had only about 70 hectares of blueberry plantations in 2012, which had grown to about 14,000 hectares by 2020. The Peruvian Blueberry Growers’ Association estimated that Peru’s blueberry exports could reach 285,000 metric tons for the 2022-2023 season, marking a 28% increase from the previous year. Peruvian blueberry farmers are now beginning to invest in sustainable practices to ensure the longevity of blueberry farming in Peru.
Employment and Blueberry Farming in Peru
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “Peru’s blueberry harvests are labor intensive,” as “all fruits are hand-picked to avoid fruit damage.” Given this demand for labor, blueberry farming in Peru accounted for approximately 135,000 jobs in 2023, with 60% of those positions belonging to women. The U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement (PTPA) has strengthened the potential of Peru’s blueberry industry to create jobs and help lift rural Peruvians out of poverty. By allowing Peru to export blueberries to the United States (which accounts for more than 50% of Peru’s blueberry exports) without tariffs, the PTPA is helping to ensure that more income from blueberries remains in Peru, where it can help promote industry growth and create more jobs in the future.
Blueberry farming in Peru has helped many rural families gain access to secure employment, a steady source of income and the basic resources needed to lead a healthy, fulfilling life. The South American country continues to reap the economic benefits of being the world’s top exporter of blueberries, with hopes that the growth of this lucrative industry can help reduce poverty and alleviate the social and economic disparities between Peru’s rural and urban populations.
– Jennifer Preece