BioTropic sets up projects in West Africa and the Dominican Republic
by Kai Kreuzer (comments: 0)
Avocados from Peru in BioTropic’s warehouse. Photo Kai Kreuzer
The BioTropic product range covers the whole spectrum of organic fruit and vegetables, from avocados to sweetcorn. To give just a few examples, avocados come from Mexico, Peru and South Africa; grapes from Italy, Chile and South Africa; and ginger from China and Peru. Citrus fruit comes from Spain, Italy and from South Africa as well. With this provenance of products in different climate zones in South America, Africa, Asia and Europe, they can as a rule maintain supplies throughout the year.
BioTropic GmbH was founded in 1997 as a purchasing company by a number of regional wholefood wholesalers (among others, Naturkost Elkershausen, Terra Berlin and Naturkost Bois). Turnover in 2013 was €61m. On their site in the north of Duisburg, you see the spacious three-storey office building and around 6,000 m² of storage, chilled storage, facilities for ripening bananas and for packaging fruit and vegetables, and also a dry goods store. Every day goods are delivered and dispatched at twenty loading ramps.
Spacious three-storey office building and around 6,000 m² of storage. Photo Kai Kreuzer
BioTropic was founded with the objective of importing goods and thereby creating independence and transparency in the procurement of foods from the tropical, subtropical and Mediterranean regions. Udo Bürk explains that one of their first imports at the outset was organic bananas. They were followed gradually by other products, so that by now they import practically the whole range of fresh foods from all the important producing regions in the world. He has worked for BioTropic since it was founded and is responsible for project management and quality control. The company now employs over 50 people across the world, including six agricultural engineers and an ecotrophologist who advise and inspect the producers on the front line and also document operations in Duisburg. This covers, for example, the regular training, counselling and inspection of farmers in South America, Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean region on all aspects of organic farming, storage, processing and exporting.Packaging facility - lemons being packed in nets. Photo Karin Heinze
Whether mangos or bananas, the products are shipped to Europe and are then transported from the harbours of Rotterdam or Antwerp to the company’s warehouse near Utrecht. Most of the goods are sent direct from here on pallets to customers across the whole of Europe. Bananas are the exception - they are taken from the harbours direct to Duisburg for ripening in the special ripening facility. The container ships take eleven days to transport the bananas across the Atlantic from the Dominican Republic. Fruit from other South American countries takes between two and three weeks. The sea journey for pineapples, mangos, coconuts and cashew nuts from West Africa takes a maximum of 14 days. Fruit from Asia and New Zealand have the longest journey – up to five weeks.
Picture on right: BCS-controlled mangos from Senegal. Photo Kai Kreuzer
In addition to their branch in the Netherlands, many years ago the company established offices and warehouses at the most important hubs in Europe in order to be closer to the production regions - Perpignan in the south of France (the hub for goods from Morocco, Spain and France) and Cesena in northern Italy (the hub for goods from Italy and Greece). To ensure reliable procurement and good quality, a few years ago the company created its own cropping and exporting facilities in the most important production locations like the Dominican Republic, Ivory Coast, Mali and Burkina Faso. In this context, BioTropic has in recent years invested funds provided by the German Federal Ministry for Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in Berlin in so-called PPP projects (Public-Private-Partnerships). These PPPs were set up with the German Investment and Development Bank (DEG) and SEQUA GmbH, with up to 50 % of the project costs being borne by the BMZ. The aim was to improve organic farming in the regions mentioned above, to train people in organic farming, to introduce farmers in situ to a compost regime, to carry out flood protection measures and to create awareness of renewable energy.
All imports are 100% organic. Photo Kai Kreuzer
Especially in the West African countries, the PPPs were a significant stimulus to growing, processing and exporting organic fruit and vegetables because, although partially certified cooperatives existed, hardly any connections had been made with export markets. Whereas all too often funds for development aid come to an end after a few years when projects are terminated, the cooperatives in West Africa and the Dominican Republic were given the opportunity of long-term and sustainable trade partnerships through collaboration with BioTropic.
PPP project in West Africa. Photo BioTropic
After a PPP was set up in 2009 in the Dominican Republic to establish the cooperative Milagros and to provide flood protection, at the end of 2014 an eco centre, the Centro ecologico Cibao (photo) financed jointly with the DEG Development Bank, was inaugurated in the city of Mao. On BioTropic’s 20 ha company site, they have been building an experience and research park for organic agriculture since 2012. Next to a 600 m² greenhouse for vegetables, there is plenty of space for growing all sorts of local vegetable varieties. They also have a banana research station, a composting facility, a modern sewage plant, a wind turbine and a photovoltaic array, a fish breeding facility and a modern training centre. The aim is to introduce schoolchildren and students from across the whole country to organic agriculture, different types of renewable energy and environmental protection.
Another PPP project of Bio Tropic. Photo Bio Tropic
In Ivory Coast - Côte d’Ivoire is the country’s name in French – a PPP project was successfully implemented between 2008 and 2010, with the focus on establishing organic pineapple production. Here and in Mali and Burkina Faso, that border Ivory Coast to the north, is the terrain of Kuemkwong Siemefo. Born in Cameroon, he has lived in Germany since 1992, where he trained as an agricultural engineer, and since 2006 he has been responsible at BioTropic for developing imports from Africa. Since there was no organizational framework in place in organic agriculture, Mr Siemefo decided in 2007 to set up several PPPs in order to create the prerequisites for cropping and exporting organic goods. Taking charge from Duisburg, he created the necessary structures in that part of Africa.
Another PPP project of Bio Tropic. Photo Bio Tropic
The PPPs included a range of activities: certification and training in organic agriculture, measures in the social sphere and health campaigns like anti-malaria and anti-Aids seminars. BioTropic’s objective is to ensure farmers have an income during different parts of the year, including outside the time when fresh fruit is harvested. This is why since 2013 they have been drying mangos and carrying out the labour-intensive processing of cashew nuts. This means that the farmers and workers at the processing plant are occupied for practically the whole year and, by processing products, they create added value. From 2015, they are going to start drying pineapple pieces, that will then be exported as a healthy snack.
In the West African countries mentioned above, the small-farmer cooperatives that work with BioTropic produce and package fresh mangos, pineapples, coconuts and cashew nuts. After starting from scratch in 2007, imports from West Africa in 2013 amounted to 2,500 tonnes or ca. 125 container loads.
Every week, one or two containers of pineapples are shipped to BioTropic in Germany. Coconuts are also cultivated in Ivory Coast and, after being transported in 15 kg sacks, some are repacked in smaller units in Duisburg before being delivered to the shops via the wholesale and retail trade. Depending on when they are harvested, mangos come from Ivory Coast, Mali and Burkina Faso, and they are all sent by Ivore Organics from the capital of Ivory Coast, Abijan, to Europe. In Senegal, another source of organic mangos, the managing director of the cooperative Buur Sine is Amacodou Diouf. As well as organizing mango exports, for years he has been running several social projects supporting schools, clinics and women’s groups. Fruit produced in Senegal is sent from Dakar.