Domesticating calafate: The fruit of the future

Claudia Cerda made true her dream of cultivating calafate in the Patagonia; a fruit that until now has only been found wild in southern Chile. However, the yields of the collectors are not enough to satisfy the growing demand for this «superfood» with its huge antioxidant content. Claudia Cerda wants to exploit this potential.

By Francisco Contardo from Puerto Río Tranquilo, Región de Aysén, Chile. October 2022.

Claudia Cerda proudly shows her first “in vitro“ calafate plant. A lot of breeding work in the laboratory is already behind her, and two weeks ago she was finally able to put the first plants in the ground. «This is the first plantation with bred samples, that come from the line «La Junta». This should be the beginning of agricultural use of calafate. While the demand for calafate has increased, the yields of wild plants have declined. The reasons for this are climate change, land consumption and the few collectors. Therefore, agricultural cultivation of this fruit is an opportunity for our region and perhaps for all of southern Chile. No fruit in the world contains more antioxidants – even cranberries contain only a fifth of what calafate does,» Claudia Cerda says about the fruit.

Claudia Cerda shows her first calafate cultivation.

Until now, it has been difficult to lift this «treasure» in southern Chile. «You can’t negotiate and sign contracts with foreign countries if you can’t supply the necessary amount of fruit. Last season, the demand was 40 tons and we only achieved a yield of 900 kilograms in our hole region. That’s why it’s important for us to create plants where we can grow the fruit specifically,» she reasons.

Claudia Cerda does not only take care of her own business; she is trying to create conditions that will allow others to grow barberries as well. «The Foundation for Agricultural Innovation (FIA) is supporting us in a project in which we are creating a guide for calafate cultivation. With this, we want to make it easier for growers to get started, especially in the south of the country. After all, the temperatures and rainfall here are ideal for cultivation,» explains Claudia Cerda.

In the meantime, she and her team have already developed three more potential breeding lines. «With these, we want to respond to the different climatic conditions. We have breeding lines for humid, less humid and dry regions. This way, every grower can choose the variety that suits him,» Claudia Cerda tells us.

We say goodbye to Claudia, Cristián and Rodrigo, a young agricultural engineer who travels from central Chile to the south for a week every month to contribute his knowledge to the project. We return home to Santiago knowing that we will soon travel south again to follow the progress of the project. We are already looking forward to see how the new varieties are thriving, how Claudia and her team are building their own breeding station, and most of all, to laugh with them again and drink the wonderful tea Claudia prepares on her wood-burning stove – in her house at the foot of a glacier and the most southern mountains in the world.

Text: Francisco Contardo. Photos and video: Constanza Mantelli and Francisco Contardo. Editing: Francisco Contardo. Translation: María Wehrle.

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