During the rainy season, Raul Barberena’s citrus grove on the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Carazo, Nicaragua has the potential to produce up to 150,000 native limes per week. It’s his story
HAVANA TIMES – Less than two kilometers from the ocean, in an unfavorable climate, a producer from the department of Carazo in Nicaragua has mastered citrus production in the country. He currently harvests some 70,000 native limes a week, for sale in domestic markets.
Citrus fruits generally grow best in warm, but not scorching, climates. However, Raul Barbarena, an industrial engineer, managed to circumvent this rule. his farm, El Limonallocated in the hot and arid community of Tupilapa, has become known for its exceptional production, and Barbarena has been recognized for its excellent environmentally friendly methods, among the 3,359 citrus growers in the Central American region.
“It’s a family business. We want to produce in the most ecological way possible and create a positive impact in the community. We saw an opportunity for development in citrus production, and this project changed my life. Not only mine, but also that of those who work with us, because there are more jobs and more economic activity in the area,” he explained.
In conversations with La Prensa, Raul Barbarena explained that his father started the citrus production project 50 years ago. “Some time later, we approached Walmart. This relationship opened up possibilities for a more stable market and an opportunity to invest and grow.
Part of his vision has been to create jobs in the community. Currently, he maintains about twenty permanent workers, and hires another 15 during the harvest period.
“We want to consolidate what we have now and get as technical as possible, in addition to renewing the plantation. We cannot grow as much as we want because water resources are limited, and also because we should look for additional marketing opportunities,” Barbarena said.
In terms of marketing, he said, “We cannot produce too many limes, because right now for example, during the rainy season, everyone is harvesting limes, so we can only sell at a low price. The other part we give. During the pandemic, we donated files to hospitals, nursing homes, schools,” he recalls.
Barbarena has been supplying Walmart Nicaragua since 2017, when it began delivering 1,000 boxes of limes; last year, it increased its sales by 370%.
The challenges of lime production
Close to the ocean and in a relatively arid area, the producer and his collaborators have implemented a series of actions to guarantee the continued increase in their harvests and help guarantee the country’s supply of limes.
“It was a big challenge, because we are here less than two kilometers from the ocean, at an altitude well below 100 feet. These are quite unfavorable conditions for citrus production,” said Barbarena.
How did he manage then? In the beginning, explains the producer, as the farm was in a “very dry area, we had to do a geological study to guarantee that there would be water and give us an idea of the potential we had”.
Specifically, they managed to take advantage of a microclimate on the farm to be able to produce limes during seasons when other places don’t have them, such as during the dry season.
“We decided to use practices that respect the environment, but also respect the community. First, we do not use pesticides to avoid contaminating groundwater. Second, we maintain the surrounding woods and manage the shade, as it is a very hot and dry place,” he said.
With this in mind: “We have also reforested around the plantation to maintain the humidity and the microclimate that we have managed to develop, which allows us to produce limes throughout the year,” explains Barbarena.
Projects to increase production and export capacity
With the opportunity and the secure market offered by the Walmart arrangement, we were able to invest more deliberately, with an optimistic view of the future. By the next rainy season, we hope to increase our production by 20%. Last year, our sales reached some 4,700 cases of limes; this year we hope to almost double that amount,” predicted Barbarena.
Currently, the lime of the farm is relatively young. It has been around for about 6 or 7 years and includes 6,500 native linden trees, 5,500 Tahitian linden trees and 100 bitter orange trees.
“Native lime gives the best yield here, as the Tahiti variety needs a slightly higher elevation. We’re only 50 feet above sea level here, so it’s very hot. We also grow bitter oranges, but our future lies in the native lime variety,” the grower pointed out.
During the rainy season, the production of native limes could reach up to 150,000 fruits per week, with great export potential.
On this point, Barbarena felt that “Walmart represents a window of development. Thanks to the proximity to them and the support they gave us, we managed to sell more, offer more jobs and generate more wealth. We are now talking about export, and we want to keep this vision as producers, as entrepreneurs, to see beyond our borders. We can’t just watch closely.
“This property means a lot to my family. This is a project my father started almost 50 years ago. He had the vision to do it, because it is an oasis in an extremely arid area. We are all here very happy with what we are doing. We are ready to continue collaborating to maintain the quality and all the characteristics and parameters that the market demands,” he said.
The grower noted that annual production varies. “We are now above 3 or 4 million limes a year, but when it’s the dry season there are so many limes that we can’t find a market – we have to explore other ways to exploit the production, to make juice or things like that.” .”
Richard Lugo, general business manager for Walmart Nicaragua, said they expect “a yield of Tahitian limes between 12,000 and 15,000 units per week. These products are exclusively intended for the supply of Walmart stores which are under different logos: Pali, Maxipali, le Unions and 2 Walmart stores that we have in Nicaragua.
2021 Excellence Awards
Barbarena was chosen as one of the best small or medium agricultural producers in Central America in 2021. Walmart awarded it one of the twelve “Supplier of Excellence” medals with which they recognize leadership in each sector each year. . In this case, it was recognized in the category of the “Fertile Lands Program”.
“Raul is Walmart Nicaragua’s largest citrus supplier. Last year, it accounted for 70% of our stores’ lime supplies. It makes us proud to have a producer like him in our company, determined and committed to productive excellence and sustainability. With Raul Barbarena, Nicaragua managed for the second consecutive year to win this award and stand out at the regional level,” said Lugo.
He also noted that Walmart awards the award once a year to just twelve people in the entire Central America region. “Of the 3,300 [producers who supply the company] twelve are chosen from the entire Central American operation, not just in Nicaragua,” he pointed out.
The annual “Supplier of Excellence” award is a long-standing business practice across Walmart’s 27 global operations.
Juan Zuniga, Director of Nicaraguan Products for Walmart Nicaragua added: “We are very proud (…) To be recognized for the second consecutive year among 3,300 suppliers in Central America means that we are doing something different. We publicly acknowledge Raul for his love, passion, and following his father’s legacy, as well as his Fertile Land project.
Barbarena stood out as a star producer despite being in an area where high temperatures are common. “Producing in these areas is a challenge”, admits Richard Lugo.
“[Barbarena] told us how he maintained the watersheds, how he worked to maintain the ancient forests. In times of drought, it tries to maintain a stable fauna, it even brings them food when it is very dry. Simply by tending the old growth forests, they managed to keep the area shaded and they reforested around the groves. Added to this is the fact that it does not use pesticides; that everything he uses as fertilizer is organic, and that way he avoids contaminating groundwater,” Lugo added.
Environmentally friendly producer
The planted area of the farm is just under 70 acres. Barbarena uses a drip irrigation system for the plants; as mentioned, it does not use pesticides.
“We currently have 40 manzanas [69.6 acres] plant. Our goal is to have more, but we have to be careful with the water, because we are very close to the ocean. If we overexploit hydrological resources, they could be polluted by seawater and we could lose everything,” Barbarena pointed out.
He also explained how they tried to maintain the ancient forest and shade. “It’s extremely hot, so for us it’s good business to be eco-friendly. Additionally, to conserve water, we have reforested around the area, planting over 10,000 trees to help sustain the harvest. We irrigate during the dry season, and then we conserve water as much as we can. We also try to make organic fertilizers and keep everything as healthy as possible. »
“We try to produce organically, although sometimes it’s difficult and we have to use chemicals. However, we try to be as environmentally friendly as possible. At this time, all citrus fruits are attacked by diseases. The Yellow Dragon Plague has ravaged citrus groves around the world, but we have managed, through fertilizer management and shade control, to contain this plant disease, which is capable of rapidly drying out a tree. “, he concluded.
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