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The plant that takes away coca from Colombia
Sacha inchi, a thousand-year-old but unknown nut, becomes a replacement alternative for illicit crops. Still few plant it, although there is great potential.
In the middle of the era of superfoods, a new business opportunity appears for the countryside and, especially, for the areas most affected by illicit crops. It is the sacha inchi, also known as the peanut of the Incas, traditionally cultivated in the Peruvian, Colombian and Ecuadorian Amazon. Its exceptional properties, since it contains one of the highest levels of omega-3 in a vegetable, have turned it into a fashionable food, as well as into a key input for the cosmetic industry. Their global demand and the low supply (Peru is the main producer) have made this crop profitable. So much so that it could substitute illicit crops like coca.
A sacha inchi plant begins to produce 7 months after sowing, two months more than coca. And for the production of one hectare a farmer can receive between $ 15 million and $ 18 million, compared to $ 20 million of coca, which makes it a real substitute.
Nanny Katharina Bahnsen presides Inca Worldwide, a firm that promotes sacha inchi in the country and industrializes it for export. She explains that other crops with which they have sought to substitute illicit crops take a long time to produce the first harvest (such as cocoa or coffee). But sacha inchi not only produces soon, but, unlike coca, which is now harvested every three months, it is produced every month. Inca Worldwide buys the crop from some 2,200 farmers in Antioquia, Chocó, Cundinamarca and Guaviare, which is equivalent to about 280 hectares. Figures from the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that in the country there are some thousand hectares sown, of which 685 are currently producing. The Putumayo and the Valle del Cauca have more planted area than the rest of the departments. You can also read: Peasants who leave illicit crops will have a discount on trademark registration In Antioquia the crop is growing and there are already 115 hectares sown. In fact, the Government allocated money from the royalties so that the Eafit, National and Bolivarian universities could carry out a study about the potential of the crop in the department. Jaime Garzón, Secretary of Agriculture of Antioquia, argues that this product can be an important line for the department. Therefore, they want to promote it in an orderly manner, after analyzing the vocation of the land of the nine regions of Antioquia. They have realized that it works in municipalities affected by the conflict, such as some of the Magdalena Medio and Bajo Cauca. That is why they proposed to the High Commissioner for Peace to consider sacha inchi not only as a substitute crop, but also to promote peace.
How is it consumed? The sacha inchi plant generates three main products: almond, oil and cake. For its properties it is considered a very good substitute for flaxseed oil and fish oil (it has 17 times more omega-3 than salmon). In protein it replaces soy, egg and dairy products and is in the growing category of nutraceuticals, that is, medicinal products made with natural ingredients. Regarding the cosmetic use, sacha inchi oil serves to care for the skin as an antioxidant and leaves it smooth and soft (without fat). It works very well as a moisturizer. It is also used in moderate amounts for washing and hair treatments. All this becomes an opportunity for the country to focus on its cultivation, with other nations such as China, which already have 700,000 hectares sown, and also in its industrial process. Inca Worldwide operates a plant in Turbo where it processes the star sacha inchi, as it is harvested, to a seed, which is then converted into a snack such as peanuts, flour, milk (such as almond or soy), tea and a concentrated food for pets.
Bahnsen maintains that they have already invested US $ 1.5 million in the entire process of collection and production of derivatives and that they already have customers at supermarkets in the United States. They would like to get to Korea or Japan, where these types of products are very popular. In 2018, they exported 239 tons of Colombian sacha inchi, mainly to Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Denmark and the Netherlands. The American NGO ACDI / VOCA, which promotes sustainable economic growth in vulnerable communities, highlights the work of the Agrosolidaria de Florencia (Caquetá) association in its Colombian chapter. It stands out that one of the virtues of this crop is that it germinates despite the harsh conditions of the Amazon-intense rain, incessant heat, acid soils. In addition, as a perennial plant, it produces crops throughout the year, which means that producers have increased their monthly income by almost 50%. The business model has worked because Agrosolidaria guarantees the purchase of the entire crop from the producers. And then process it to produce the oil, which already has an Invíma registration, which facilitates its export. With the sacha inchi Colombia, it can advance firmly towards an effective strategy of crop substitution.
Fashion business Although the sacha inchi is a thousand-year-old plant cultivated by the Incas, in Colombia they barely know it, while US food chains such as Whole Foods have it on their shelves. This fashionable food has nine amino acids, which for experts means it can replace the meat. Help with blood pressure by strengthening the heart; reduces the levels of cholesterol in the blood; streamlines brain functions linked to memory, intelligence and rationing; It serves as an antioxidant and, most importantly, from the point of view of business, is that they attribute slimming properties. According to an investigation by the US market intelligence agency Mintel Global New Products Database, the number of new products containing components called superfoods has increased more than 200% between 2011 and 2015. In addition, it expects its sales to exceed US $ 300,000 million for 2020 only in the United States.