Panama exporting bell peppers to U.S.

Potrerillos Arriba, in the province of Chiriquí, houses the largest climate-controlled bell pepper-growing facility in Latin America. On Monday, their first container departed with 22,000 pounds of red, yellow and orange bell peppers, headed for Port Everglades in Miami, United States. This marks a milestone in the registration books of Panamanian agricultural exports.

In May 2012 Panama signed a phytosanitary protocol with the U.S., which opened the doors for local agricultural exporters to ship fresh papaya, bell pepper and tomatoes to the U.S. market. One company, Veggie Fresh, took advantage of this context to do business. Its hydroponically grown produce is cultivated in greenhouses over a 10 hectare area.

In nine of these greenhouses, different colored baskets control the harvest of each shade of the pepper as it ripens. The packing plant uses certain equipment to guarantee that no pests are packaged along with the produce. The company projects to ship 40,000 pounds of peppers per week in 11.5 pound boxes to the United States.

An average-sized fruit grown by Veggie Fresh weighs 200 grams. Starting in 2014, the harvest cycle will begin on October 1 and end on May 31 the following year. According to Guillermo Villarreal, president of Veggie Fresh, this cycle is to their advantage, because those eight months will be when its main competitors, Mexico and Canada, are not in production.

“We are trying to change the way of doing things and, in turn, drive the primary sector,” stated Villarreal. In order to maintain democracy and governance in Panama, the country's development should be encouraged in a comprehensive manner.