Chile to expand tropical fruit exports from desert north

Chile’s Foundation of Agricultural Investigation and its leading public university are investigating expansion of exotic and drought resistant crops. 

After study by Chile’s most prestigious public university, the Universidad de Chile, agricultural produce in the country’s arid north may take a dramatic turn, from the traditionally grown avocado, grapes and citrus plantations, to a new range of exotic fruit.
Dragon fruit, fig, prickly pear, pomegranate and tamarillo have all been touted by the university and Chile’s Foundation of Agricultural Innovation (FIA) as the future of the area known as Norte Chico (“Little North”), but its not just the distinctive colors and exotic taste of the fruit that makes them ideal candidates for the regions’ growers.
According to the FIA, the first results of a Universidad de Chile’s project in Atacama and Coquimbo regions show an 85 percent reduction in water and energy consumption in growing the aforementioned exotic fruits than is used in traditional crops.
Fernando Jordán, FIA ​​deputy director, said that the project was offering vital evidence on these fruits’ suitability to the arid and drought prone regions.
“The initiative’s innovation is to validate these fruit varieties in local environments allowing them to tolerate adverse weather and climate conditions such as extreme temperatures, high radiation and drought,” he said.
Despite their arid climatic conditions, the Atacama and Coquimbo regions contribute significantly to fruit exports from the Andean nation, but the three main crops – grapes, citrus and avocados – which constitute two thirds of Norte Chico’s produce, all have medium to high water requirements.
This concentration of production in water thirsty crops has lead to increased pressure on water resources and high energy consumption, reducing farmers’ profit margins.
To alleviate these stresses, Chile’s agriculture ministry has been actively pursuing much more lucrative niche markets for exotic fruits, particularly in markets in North America, Europe and Russia.
Of the fruits studied by the Universidad de Chile, the prickly pear, or tuna as it is known in Chile, offers the largest water savings, estimated at up 86 percent when compared to traditional crops. In addition, it bears its sweet fruit in both summer and winter, and the hardy cactus requires much less resources to grow.
The dramatic looking dragon fruit also offers high water reductions, in this case up to 80 percent. Aside from being used in juices, jams and wines, the fruit’s stem is also used in manufacturing shampoos and soaps.
Meanwhile the more commonly known pomegranate and fig can offer savings of up to 46 percent and 37 percent respectively.
For more information on Chilean fruit exports, see the Chilean Fresh Fruit website.