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Pundit’s Mailbag — Report On Peru’s Earthquake Damage

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, August 29, 2007

We have run several pieces regarding the humanitarian crisis created by the earthquake in Peru. Most recently our article, Donations To Relieve Peru Are Cause Of Discussion, suggested ways industry members can contribute to help relieve the suffering and explored the kind of produce industry institutional response that might be appropriate.

Here at the Pundit, we have also received many requests asking us to advise as to the impact on the operations of the produce industry in Peru, especially the export sector.

John Shuman of Shuman Produce which, among other things, imports sweet onions from Peru, was kind enough to send along this brief report:

The earthquake’s aftermath will be felt for some time. But even though it was a devastating earthquake, Peru’s residents, growers, and field workers in the south are working quickly and very hard to put their lives back together. We should all take a moment and pray for those who are suffering from this terrible disaster.

Regarding the earthquake’s impact on Peru’s agriculture, specifically sweet onions grown for US import, the biggest agricultural challenge facing the growers today is labor and water. Shuman Produce’s Operation Manager in Peru, Luis Torres, said most of the farmers in the south near Chincha, Pisco, and Ica (Peru’s largest sweet onion growing region) were without electricity for their irrigation pumps for some 3 days after the earthquake.

To make matters worse, some of the deep wells collapsed during the earthquake and have filled with sand. And since the ICA region is mostly desert, irrigation is needed almost daily.

We are getting reports that the majority of growers have restored power and good water supplies, but approximately 10 to 15% of the sweet onion growers are still without water. As for labor, most of the workers live in adobe houses that crumbled during the earthquake, so most have no shelter, limited food and water, and no electricity. And many are being hired by Peru’s government to aid in the rebuilding process. At this time, Luis feels that some 50% to 60% of the laborers have returned to the sweet onion fields, so sweet onions are being loaded this week for US import.

As for Peru’s infrastructure, all three ports — the Port of Callao, Port of Paita, and the Port of Macarani — are all open for business. Inland freight is being met with some problems on the Pan-American Highway, specifically the Puente Huamani Bridge (The Huamani Bridge). This bridge is located approximately 220 km south of Lima and has been almost totally destroyed.

There are deep holes in the road both north and south of the bridge and the traffic is moving very slowly. Southbound traffic can pass in a single-file line along the bridge. Northbound traffic has been detoured under the bridge on a small platform over the river. So while the Pan-American highway is open, it has slowed containers moving north to the Port of Callao.

Also, sweet onion growers in the north, near Huarmey, have been largely unaffected by the earthquake, so moderate supplies of sweet onions are currently being loaded this week from the north.

— John Shuman
President & Director of Sales
Shuman Produce
Reidsville, Georgia

In addition Luis Torres, mentioned in John’s letter, resides in Chincha, Peru, one of the areas hardest hit by the earthquake. He sent along a very explicit photo slideshow of the damage. Please make a point of looking at the slides here.

John is well known. As we reported here, he is especially lauded for the development of the Produce for Kids program, which gives proceeds from produce sales to the Children’s Miracle Network.

We appreciate his taking the time to fill the industry in on the situation in Peru.

We also thank Luis Torres for sending the photos as we know he has plenty to do. We pray that his family and friends are OK and that a sense of normalcy will return soon.

We remind those interested in helping that Nancy Tucker of PMA contacted some of PMA’s members in Peru and they suggested that those interested in helping donate to Caritas, a Catholic Relief Agency that helps people of all faiths.

You can learn about Caritas right here. PMA donated $1,000 and the Pundit matched it to kick off the effort.

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