Profitable access to export markets

UCHU is a family business founded by Phillip Baker who comes from a farming family of chili peppers, and marine biologist Imelda Echavarria. In 1992, the couple moved to Ecuador, where they set up a base of smallholder farmers. These farmers could only dedicate a small part of their land to the production of a cash crop, and UCHU gave them profitable access to export markets for their specialty hot peppers. The size of their operations has gradually expanded, first in Ecuador and then into Peru.

Working with smallholder farmers

The essence of UCHU is the work with over 300 smallholder farming families who produce around 2.5 million kgs of peppers, of a total of ten different varieties. Principal Investment Manager Nelleke Veenstra: “The farmers have very limited access to expertise or technology. UCHU gives them access to reliable seed(lings) and shares knowledge about sustainable soil management techniques.” Also, UCHU has invested in local processing and warehousing capacity. “In this way, the inflow of produce can increase, processed, and stored. More farmers can be part of process and it allows UCHU to focus on higher quality produce, which generates a better price for farmers.”

Seed lab

UCHU runs its own seed lab in Ecuador, to develop new varieties and to safeguard ancient ones. From this seed lab, the quality seedlings find their way to the farmers for planting. Each farmer plants over 16,000 seedlings per hectare; after two to three months the hot pepper plants bear the first fruit and can be harvested all year around. UCHU is also piloting organic greenhouse production as well as the introduction of a drip-irrigation system.