La Dona Fruit was honoured to receive the President of Panama, Laurentino (Nito) Cortizo, at our La Chorrera pineapple farm in Panama last Friday (August 14, 2020)!
On his first visit, President Cortizo had the opportunity to see our pineapple fields and packing facilities to gain a first-hand understanding of our premium air pineapple business, and the challenges faced by the Panamanian pineapple industry as a whole.
Our packhouse was also chosen as the location for a special event during which President Cortizo presented agricultural subsidies to small, local businesses affected by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, as well as academic scholarships to some lucky students.
After the President’s helicopter landed in the middle of our farm in an area where we’re preparing the soil for future planting, Paul Vergara, La Dona Fruit’s Director of Pineapple Operations, had the pleasure of guiding President Cortizo to a wonderful viewpoint overlooking the entire farm.
Once there, Paul, his sister, Francis Vergara, and mother, Edna Vergara (the founder of La Dona Fruit!), presented President Cortizo with the gift of a beautiful hamper, plus boxes of our premium pineapples to take home to try!
After admiring the pretty view, the small entourage drove 2 kilometres through the pineapple fields to our packhouse where Paul gave President Cortizo a tour and explanation of how we wash and pack our pineapples ready for export.
“It was a huge honour and opportunity to meet President Cortizo,” explains Paul. “I had the chance to speak directly with him for a short time about our farm, how it works, how our pineapples are produced, and our Air Pineapple business.
“Although President Cortizo already knew that La Dona is Panama’s biggest exporter of pineapples by air, he was impressed with our operations and our business model. He loved the farm, and what we’re doing here!
“President Cortizo thought our Air Pineapple business is a great avenue to promote a very high quality product, and to promote Panamanian pineapples overseas. Some other agricultural products have gone through a similar route, such as Panamanian coffee, and the President encouraged us to continue on this journey, and to keep putting Panama on the map.”
During the special prize-giving event, Paul had the chance to give an important speech about the state of the pineapple industry in Panama; covering the challenges faced by the sector and the government support it needs going forward.
“In my speech I was very truthful about the conditions faced by Panama’s pineapple industry,” Paul explains. “The industry, which was once a success story, has been decimated over the last decade, and it’s crucial that we go back to what we were doing 10 years ago when Panama was exporting a lot more pineapples.”
Since 2009, planted area with pineapples in Panama has reduced by 80 per cent as pineapple production has grown steadily in Costa Rica, which is now the world’s biggest producer. The expansion in Costa Rica continued until 2015, and led to an oversupply of pineapples in the marketplace which pushed down prices.
“The prices for pineapples between 2000 and 2010 were more stable because there wasn’t as much production,” notes Paul. “But as volume grew, consumers bought more, so demand rose and prices kept pushing downwards.
“Panama’s competitive edge is our logistical advantage, our weather and our soils. Whereas in Costa Rica the costs for pineapple production are 30-40 per cent cheaper. It forced us to reinvent ourselves, and that is when the La Dona Air Pineapple business was born. However, a lot of people went out of business because Panama can’t make money growing the same product as Costa Rica.
“On top of that, there was a slow down in how quickly the export incentives that have been paid by the government for the last 20 years were received by some growers (up to two years in some cases). It affected a lot of pineapple growers who relied on the export incentives to sustain their businesses.”
Paul and his team certainly got the President’s attention with the added bonus of gaining media exposure. The visit was a very public event with a lot of press in attendance!
“It was great publicity for the company, and to present the situation for Panamanian pineapples,” Paul points out. “President Cortizo knows who we are now, so I am requesting to meet with him personally to discuss how the government can help the pineapple industry in Panama.”
Watch this space!
– The La Dona Family