Abiu, bacuri, ibaijuba, mariuri, piúna, and umbu. These different names represent the diversity of Brazilian fruit growing. The national menu includes both native fruits like those, and exotic ones—originating from other places, such as the banana, which came from Asia. The quality of Brazilian fruits is acknowledged internationally, despite the still small presence of the sector in the international market. The country is the third largest fruit producer in the world, but exports only 2.5% of everything it produces. Mango, melon, lemon, and grapes lead the ranking of Brazilian foreign sales in the sector.
Undoubtedly, there is room to expand the presence of this list, considering both the “traditional” fruits and the little-known ones. However, the introduction of new food products into the diet of consumers is not an easy task, neither in Brazil nor especially abroad. Besides this direct work done with the consumer, one must overcome the registration process of these “exotic” products in the markets of interest. And this is exactly what a group of umbu producers is doing to obtain access to the demanding European countries.
In January 2018, the European Union (EU) implemented new legislation defining so-called “traditional food products from third countries” (Novel Food, in English), a specific terminology for novel food products for which access is sought in the EU. Regulation (CE) No. 258/97 of the European Parliament and Council, which addresses the norm, defines these products as “foods and food ingredients that have not been used for human consumption to a significant degree in the European Union before May 1997.”
These products include fruits that are often unknown to Europeans, such as umbu (also known as “Brazil plum”). The difference between the process for the entry of a traditional food product and that for other products of animal or vegetable origin is that Novel Food registration may be requested by a company, for example, while for products that do not fall under the legislation, only the exporting country can request it. Furthermore, the applicant for registration as a Novel Food is responsible for ensuring the safety of the product, while for any other product, the government bodies responsible in the country of origin must ensure compliance with the European Union’s requirements.
The important thing in this process is to prove, through a technical dossier prepared by the applicant, that the traditional food has been safely and normally consumed in the country of origin for at least 25 years. The dossier approach has some advantages because, in addition to data ascertaining the food’s safety, one may present supporting documents for the claim related to consumption—such as recipe books, reports, advertisements, and other elements that prove its existence.
The umbuzeiro (umbu tree), called the “sacred tree of the sertão (backlands)” by writer Euclides da Cunha, is native to the caatinga biome and is known for its ability to produce fruit in circumstances of water and climatic stress. Its growing activities have contributed to the economic development of the Brazilian semi-arid region, strengthened mainly by the creation of cooperatives that process umbu in small and medium family-agroindustries and use it as raw material for the production of jams, jellies, and sweets with higher added value. The state of Bahia is the main producer the fruit, accounting for approximately 88% of the country’s total—with production percentages recorded in 195 cities—, followed by the states of Pernambuco (5%), Rio Grande do Norte (3%), Minas Gerais (2%), Paraíba, and Piauí (1% each).
The Cooperativa Agropecuária Familiar de Canudos, Uauá e Curaçá (Family Farming Cooperative of Canudos, Uauá, and Curaçá, COOPERCUC) is a success story in the production of umbu and its derivatives. It emerged in 1986 from an initiative of female producers in the region. Since then, with the support of several state and national institutions—, has been taking its products to the shelves of Brazil and the world. However, it’s still not possible to export products derived from umbu to the EU, and today COOPERCUC only exports sweets and jams made of fruits already consumed in the bloc, such as banana and passion fruit.
The cooperative is supported by the Agro.BR Project, led by CNA, which aims to promote the internationalization of small and medium rural businesses and is partnered with the Brazilian Agency for the Promotion of Exports and Investments (APEX-Brasil). Through a partnership between COOPERCUC, CNA, and the Brazilian Service of Support to Micro and Small Enterprises in Bahia (SEBRAE-BA) a request is being prepared to register umbu as a traditional food in the EU.
The possibility of registering umbu as a Novel Food, currently ongoing, will bring new opportunities for producers from the semi-arid region in Northeastern Brazil, besides opening the doors for other products made of Brazilian biodiversity in the EU and other international markets.
Sueme Mori is the Director of International Relations at the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA). With the cooperation of Camila Sande, International Relations Advisor to CNA.