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Earthquake In Peru Prompts Appeal For Help To Farm Workers There

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, August 22, 2007

Life remains precarious in Peru as the nation transitions from searching for survivors to attempting reconstruction.

It is difficult to say what the exact situation is for the produce trade. No reliable crop estimates exist as everyone has been focused on the immediate problems.

Even if the crop still remains, there are problems with packing houses, roads and port facilities that may make exporting the produce problematic.

Peru’s government has responded with an initiative to accelerate the auction of a concession to operate a key port very important to the agricultural industry:

Peru’s government said it will speed up an auction of a concession to operate the southern port of Pisco after it was damaged last week by the country’s worst earthquake in more than 30 years.

The Aug. 15 quake, which killed at least 510 and left 80,000 homeless on the south coast, damaged 30 percent of the port, David Lemor, director of the state agency for promoting private investment, Proinversion, told reporters in Lima. Pisco ships liquid natural gas, metals and agricultural produce.

Peru, Latin America’s seventh-largest economy, is counting on $1 billion in investments in its 12 ports to boost exports by a third to $25 billion this year and to double exports within five years. The government last year auctioned a pier concession at Lima’s port of Callao to Dubai-based DP World.

“We’re going to place priority on projects in the Pisco area, such as the port, a highway to the highlands and a gas duct,” Lemor said. “It’s important that the port is competitive so that exporters have lower costs.”

The effects of the quake will slow Peru’s economic growth to about 7.6 percent this year from earlier forecasts of 8 percent, President Alan Garcia said. Half of the country’s population of 27 million lives on $1 a day.

The Peruvian government began a 300 million sole ($95 million) reconstruction program today that aims to employ 8,000 townspeople to rebuild roads, houses, churches and hospitals destroyed by the 8.0 quake, Garcia said.

Asparagus Exporter

“Pisco has enormous potential for agro-industry and needs a commercial port and airport,” Garcia told reporters there. “We’re going to make the area better than it was before.”

Peru is the world’s largest exporter of asparagus and paprika, most of which is grown along the south coast.

The World Bank today pledged $400,000 to help finance reconstruction, while Ecuador and Italy sent planes carrying clothing, medicine, food and bottled water. Donor nations and relief agencies have pledged a total of $40 million.

Peru has suffered three destructive earthquakes in the last decade. Last week’s quake was the world’s most powerful since a magnitude-8.1 temblor struck off the Solomon Islands in April, triggering a tsunami that killed 54 people. The U.S. Geological Survey said last week’s quake carried about as much energy as about 790 nuclear bombs.

The government of Peru has also appealed to the international community, specifically the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for technical help to review damage to the agricultural infrastructure:

The FAO prepares mission to assess situation in the regions most affected by the earthquake in the Central Coast of Peru

Luis Castello, Representante

Lima, Peru, 16 of August.The Peruvian government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, requested the technical assitance of the FAO, to assess the damage caused to the agricultural infrastructure and means of subsistence of the rural populations of Ica, Pisco and Chincha, affected yesterday by the 7,9-degrees earthquake that shook the country. According to the figures of the Institute of Civil Defense, died and hurt hundreds are registered until the moment of; the earthquake destroyed houses, hotels, buildings and health centers, not including damages in rural areas.

The FAO emergency aid aims at assessing the situation of the infrastructure and the local agricultural capacity; identifying actions to restore the local food production and to reduce the dependency on food aid. The Ica Region has a population of 687,300 inhabitants, with an area of 243,453 hectares, a poverty rate of 23,8% and its main economic activities are agriculture and mining. Icais the second cotton producer in Peru, the first grape producer and sixth producer of yellow maize at national level. Fruit trees, cereals, olive tree and tunas are also cultivated in the area. Icais the first iron producer of the country.

The FAO mission is coordinated with the United Nations Emergency Team –UNETE- and with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in face of the occurrence of natural disasters or humanitarian urgencies. In addition we have installed the UN Web site to offer information on the emergency: http://www.onu.org.pe/publico/infocus/
sismoperu_eng.aspx

In the days, weeks and months to come, the situation will be clarified and the industry prospects will become more clear. Right now there is a humanitarian crisis and one that will require continuing attention. The situation brought forth this thoughtful appeal to the trade from Bruce McEvoy of Seald Sweet, one of the trade’s most respected personages:

AN APPEAL TO THE INDUSTRY

What is the extent of our social responsibility as an industry?

Last weekend I was dining with friends and someone asked where the delicious asparagus came from. I proudly stated my knowledge, Peru, and there was an immediate silence in the room.

Instant reflections of what we had seen over the past few days could not be ignored. Images of crushed adobe cottages in the region of Ica; a church collapsing on its congregation during prayer in Pisco; a complete breakdown of the infrastructure with parts of the Pan American highway no longer in place. The devastating power of an earthquake brought terror to farming villages 160 miles south of Lima; farm communities that grow and ship asparagus, sweet onions and now citrus to the United States.

While humanitarian aid is flowing in from around the world, when the headlines fade in a few weeks those who will suffer the most are the farm workers and their families who have lost their homes and are now displaced. Similar to the conditions created after the 2004 Florida hurricanes, these critical workers within the global produce industry deserve not only our compassion but also our financial support.

Seald Sweet launched a fundraising effort following the hurricanes in 2004 and soon recognized the generosity within our industry, but we also recognized that one company does not have the capabilities to mobilize the industry’s resources for relief efforts. Is this perhaps a role for United Fresh and the PMA where they can provide the industry with the disaster facts, publish the message and provide a registered foundation for the collection, oversight and distribution of relief funds?

It may be inappropriate for me to speculate on the charter of those associations, particularly their foundations, but I’m trying to stimulate your thinking; I’m searching for ideas! Many of our retail partners, produce companies and suppliers to the industry have foundations that can make contributions to disaster relief efforts. As we learned from our Florida experience, many retailers were willing to join with the suppliers to conduct fundraising promotion features that also involved the consumer. The desire to help others in distress is part of our culture we just need to find a mechanism to make it happen.

I’m open to your suggestions and no idea is off the radar screen. I don’t expect that a solution will be simple but it deserves our attention. In Peru we’ve witnessed another natural disaster and this time it is not only a neighbor but a neighbor who is part of our industry. We need to try our best to support them as produce colleagues!

Again, what is the extent of our social responsibility?

Thank you,

— E. Bruce McEvoy,
Seald Sweet LLC
Vero Beach, Florida

It is only natural that when a crisis arises, we will not only want to help but, specifically, want to help the people we feel closest to — in this case, the people in our trade or industry.

We spoke to Priscilla Lleras, the director of the Peruvian Asparagus Importers Association, and she indicated an immediate need for water, canned goods, blankets and tents delivered to Miami. This aid would go through the association to the produce workers most affected by this earthquake. If your organization is in a position to aid this effort, please send a note here so we can pass it on to the Peruvians.

Ms. Lleras explained that there are many private aid efforts being run by companies to help their shippers and others connected with the asparagus or sweet onion business. But there are no 501(c)3 charitable funds focused on helping the produce industry or its employees.

To Bruce’s point, this creates a limitation. One can donate to CARE or other broad-based charitable efforts but these funds won’t go to the produce workers specifically. Beyond that, one has to create a private aid effort.

Unfortunately it is not an easy problem to solve.

As always, in charity, collecting the money is the easy part. Spending it effectively is the hard part.

Neither PMA nor United are well equipped to ensure the “oversight and distribution of relief funds” in an earthquake-ravaged area of Peru. They would either have to give the money to a charity such as CARE or give it to a produce association in Peru whose own competency to run a charitable effort is unknown.

In addition, laws concerning charitable donations generally restrict giving money to non-charitable organizations such as produce associations.

Perhaps a relief organization could be persuaded to open a special effort just for produce people if there was the likelihood of substantial donations to support it.

Or perhaps, we have sort of stumbled upon a reasonable approach. Those with direct interests in an area struck by crisis provide special aid to their “friends and family” and the rest of us donate to general relief and reconstruction, hopeful that rebuilding hospitals and the like will help everyone, including the produce people.

That may be the best we can do, but it is quite unsatisfying. Bruce has touched a nerve in identifying the generosity of our industry and our people; it would be nice if we could find a way to tap that more usefully. Like Bruce, we are open to suggestions.

Many thanks to Bruce for reminding us of Seald Sweet’s efforts after the 2004 hurricanes and for raising the saliency of this issue.

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