Noticias / Sustainability and Circular Economy

Opinion Column: The Chilean Fruit Sector and the Circular Economy

“Circular farming emphasises the importance of preserving biodiversity through agricultural practices that promote crop diversity and the conservation of natural habitats in production areas”.

Publicado el 28/08/2023

Opinion column by Rodrigo Silva Muñoz, Agricultural Engineer, Ph.D in Agricultural Sciences and project manager of the Eurochile Business Foundation.

The Chilean fruit model is a clear example of the successful agricultural and fresh fruit export industry that Chile has developed over the decades. This is due to the fact that it has become a world reference after standing out in terms of quality, product diversification and openness to international markets.

This success is mainly due to five factors that have allowed the development of fruit production in our country: i) the high number of trade agreements; ii) favourable soil and climatic conditions; iii) good plant health conditions; iv) good organisation and coordination of the productive, academic and public sectors; and v) the contrast with the northern hemisphere in fruit production.

Despite this, the Chilean fruit model, being mostly conventional agricultural production based on traditional practices and techniques, is not without its problems. Although it has demonstrated efficiency in large-scale food production, it has also raised debates due to its impacts on the environment, society and health.

This model, being highly intensive in the use of agrochemicals and tillage practices, generates negative externalities, such as soil degradation, water pollution, loss of biodiversity, pest and disease resistance, greenhouse gas emissions and excessive water use, among other externalities that not only harm the health of ecosystems, but also of society, affecting long-term productivity and compromising the sustainability of agricultural territories and their inhabitants.  However, in recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the negative impacts of this conventional agricultural model in terms of health, environmental sustainability and equity, an effect that is being recognised and has taken on great importance by consumers.

As a result, one of the greatest challenges for the national fruit sector is to increase productivity in a sustainable manner, making efficient use of natural resources and contributing positively to the environment and society. In addition to the negative effects of climate change and the need to respond to increasingly demanding consumers who are informed and interested in sustainably produced products and the food production process, fruit producers have to look for new production alternatives and be more efficient in the use of resources.

Currently, producers are making great efforts, adhering to clean production agreements (CPAs), integrating environmental certifications and sustainability policies, but unfortunately this is not enough to change this paradigm. Thus, one response to improve this situation is the circular economy, a model that seeks to minimise the extraction of natural resources, reduce waste generation and promote the reuse, recycling and renewal of materials to create a more sustainable system. Applied to agriculture, known as “circular farming”, it transforms the way food is produced, distributed and consumed, and stands out for minimising waste and maximising efficiency in the use of resources.

Circular agriculture” aims to improve food security, promote soil and water health, and strengthen resilience to extreme weather events. This circular approach, in which fewer resources are used, food is produced more efficiently and waste is generated and reused, contributes to closing nutrient and material cycles. To achieve this, various practices should be adopted in the production process, such as Regenerative Agriculture and Soil Conservation practices, Recycling and Reuse of Materials, the use of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Strategies, among others.

Circular farming, in turn, also highlights the importance of preserving biodiversity through agricultural practices that encourage crop diversity and the conservation of natural habitats in production areas. In this context, circular farming promotes the restitution of nutrients to the soil through composting, manure application and crop rotation. These practices not only reduce dependence on chemical fertilisers, but also significantly improve soil health.

Ultimately, the incorporation of circular economy principles by domestic fruit producers will provide them with the opportunity to achieve more sustainable production, reducing their waste and minimising their environmental impact. In doing so, the sector can aim to become more environmentally and economically resilient and improve its position in the increasingly demanding global food market. However, this task is not an easy road for fruit producers to travel alone. To make this transition successful, the support of both the public sector and academia is key to achieving this goal, through the creation of support programmes for producers who decide to move towards a more circular agriculture.

Currently, Rodrigo Silva, Agronomist Engineer, Ph.D in Agricultural Sciences and project manager of the Sustainability and Circular Economy Area of the Eurochile Business Foundation, is leading the project “Chilean-European Alliance for the green transition in MSMEs of the Chilean fruit sector and their Business Organisations”, in the framework of the AL-INVEST Verde programme, which aims to help small and medium-sized enterprises to adopt sustainable and circular practices in their agri-food systems.