Just like MÁrquez’s fictional Caribbean town of Macondo, many settlements along the coast of Colombia were changed beyond recognition by the arrival of the banana industry in the 1920s. With the construction of Puerto Antioquia, officially announced in August 2014, a similar transformation is set to take place.
Puerto Antioquia will be built in the municipality of Turbo, in the sub-region of Urabá Antioquia—home to the world’s largest banana plantation spanning 48,000 ha, approximately 340km north of Medellín. The entrepreneurs behind the $350 million investment in the new port’s infrastructure are the Puertos Inversiones and Obras (PIO) group, part of the holding Grupo Empresarial del Pacífico, led by President Eng. Oscar Isaza. The group is best known for developing the Puerto Solo in Buenaventura, and has now redeployed its teams from the coastal waters of the Pacific to the turquoise shores of the Gulf of Uraba on the Caribbean.
“We’ve had a lot of support, not only from the governor of Antioquia, but also from the ANI, and the National authority for environmental licenses”, noted Isaza, in conversation with TBY. “Port concessions, which we have already been awarded, are entirely different to road concessions in that they are fully led by the private sector—we say where and when, and construct the specifications.” The port will enhance the logistical infrastructure of a region that has one of the highest values of agricultural and industrial production in the country. According to a report by the Associación de Colombia (AUGURA) in 2013, the national banana industry of Colombia had a total value worth $829.3 million, for which the Uraba region was responsible for 70%, producing 68.2 million boxes of bananas weighing 18kg each, with a total value of $589.5 million.
The story of AUGURA is a classic case study in the subversion of neo-colonialism and monopolistic practices of the world’s largest banana trading multinationals by indigenous counterparts and former subjects. Until 1965 Chiquita Banana—part of United brands and Del Monte, controlled the technology, harvest, transport, marketing, and the finances of banana around the world. The 1966 rebellion launched by a group of upstanding local businessmen to create Union de Bananeros de Uraba, paved the way for the autonomous infrastructural development in the Colombian banana industry, as AUGURA began to commercialize their produce for international markets under their own terms, and founded one of the largest Banana exporters in the world, Uniban.
There are currently seven flights a day to Uraba from Medellín. However, with the government-backed construction of the Autopista de Prosperidad 4G concessions project, travel times and interconnectivity of the region’s industrial arteries will be significantly improved. PIO’s Puerto Antioquia investment reflects the Colombian private sector’s initiative to work in unison with the state-backed 4G projects.
The immense potential for shipping liners is an opportunity that already some of the world’s most esteemed shipping and logistics companies seem keen to capitalize on. Hamburg Sud has partnered with the trader Del Monte and is transitioning from the traditional break-bulk shipping method of bananas to containerization, allowing greater preservation of the commodity for distant markets in East Asia and the Middle East.
The construction of Puerto Antioquia and Uniban’s legacy are undoubtedly inspiring case studies for developers and producers across the world. With an ongoing peace process looking likely to result in a comprehensive agricultural policy reform, the late construction of the port will ensure that all regional actors, industrialists, and producers around Antioquia, will have an opportunity to import and export under more competitive conditions, and at a lower cost.