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We’re SAG to Leave Chile

After an eventful ten days in Chile, our trip has come to a conclusion. Though we spent the majority of our last day unconscious on the bus, we had one last destination before our departure: SAG. The Servicio Agrícola y Ganadero offered us insight on the export and import of agricultural and horticultural products. First driving at the SAG facility for Santiago’s airport, we met Olga, the woman in charge of the operation. She oversees the inspection of both imported and exported agricultural and horticultural products. Of most importance for SAG is the abundance of imported flowers that come into Chile from Ecuador and Columbia. Olga introduced us to Munoz Sanchez, one of the inspectors in the facility. He showed us the process that imported flowers must pass through before they are approved for sale within the country.

For cut flowers, and plant products as a whole, there are two major insect pests that SAG pays particular attention for. These are thrips and liriomyza. Thrips palmi is a winged insect that feeds off of flowers, and can sometimes transmit diseases. Liriomyza is a leaf miner. As an additional note, products are prohibited from entering the country with soil. For any product being imported, strict rules and regulations must be followed. Products must enter the country accompanied by a declaration stating it is free of insects. After this document is presented, it is checked to make sure that it matches the product (Step one, photo one). If it is incorrect, SAG will not go on to manually check the shipment. If the documents are correct, 2% of the total load is manually checked for insects and diseases in the facility. Inspectors begin by unpacking the boxes and checking each product by eye. Sanchez demonstrated a more in depth method of looking for thrips by smacking the flowers to loosen any debris (Step two, photos two and three). Against a white table with a white light from above, the thrips become much more visible. In most flowers, leaves are removed, as a safeguard against any thrips that usually reside within. If thrips or leaf mites are found in the product, at any stage of growth, it cannot enter the country.  The complete load is burned on site. Besides from cut flowers, 100% of all propagated material entering Chile is also manually checked by SAG.

1: Mr. Sanchez checking the shipping label with his document

2: Inspecting Baby’s Breath for Thrips

3: Hitting the cut flowers to loosen any Thrips

If other insects, besides thrips and leaf mites, are found, a different set of procedures must be followed. If something is found, an entomologist is consulted to determine what the insect is. The facility has its own lab to study and identify the insect, complete with a collection of insects that have been found in products over the past 15 or 20 years (Photo 4). Depending on the severity of the insect, referred to as a hitchhiker, the load may be allowed to be fumigated and enter the country, or the load may be burned. SAG uses only one spray to fumigate loads with hitchhiker insects. Considering all imports from Ecuador, only 5-10% of all products are rejected from entering Chile. As Ecuador is the number one producer of cut roses in the Western Hemisphere, it essential for their export market that their goods be free of all insects and diseases. As thrips is not present in Chile at this time, it is no wonder that SAG is so strict with incoming agricultural and horticultural products.

4: SAG’s entomology lab for identifying hitchhiker insects

Fruits and vegetables entering the country have more requirements to be met than cut flowers do. Plants must be imported with bare roots, or grown in some sort of medium, as soil is strictly prohibited. Plants are checked for nematodes, and microscopically inspected by certain staff.

The process for exporting such goods is similar to that already discussed above. The site that we visited is the oldest SAG export facility in the country. It began 33 years ago, checking exported asparagus and raspberries. Again, 2% of a load to be exported is checked by SAG agronomists. At times, inspectors from the USDA may reside in Chile for spells of 2-3 months in order to work in the facilities. Exported agricultural and horticultural products are checked for insects that are prohibited or do not exist already in the country of import. For the US alone, an extensive list of prohibited insects exists. Products are inspected both internally and externally. For example, if an apple shows signs of a hole made by an insect, it will be cut open and inspected. SAG also uses a systems approach for inspecting fruits and vegetables. From each box in a load, 20 products are sampled and watched for insect presence. If an insect is found, it must be identified and then the load must either be burned or fumigated depending on the situation.

The export of goods is unique in the sense that allows for two different methods for SAG to check the loads.  In a direct sample, the products are checked as usual at the SAG facility, as already outlined. However, producers are also offered the option of remote sampling. With this, the producers make an appointment with SAG online for inspectors to come directly to the site of production. At the facility, inspectors will check 2% of the total shipment. This option allows the producer to save the energy and fuel transporting the entire load to the SAG facility. This method only takes about four or five hours, and then the goods are able to be shipped directly from the plant facility. This is most often used for products transported via maritime shipment.

All in all, our visit to SAG proved to be very insightful. After touring so many farms and production related enterprises, this stop allowed us to gain knowledge of what happens to Chilean products leaving the country. As we in the US import many agricultural and horticultural products from Chile, it was worthwhile to learn the extensive processes and regulations that allow us access to these goods.


Endemism in Chile

What I appreciate most about the biodiversity of Chile, is the great wealth of endemic species that the country is home to. There has often been debate over whether endemism or biodiversity should be used as a measure of conservation, but I propose that the two go hand-in-hand. For a country such as Chile, the overlap between biodiversity and endemism is much easier to appreciate.  Though Chile as a whole does not contain a vast number of species, it has the largest percentage of endemic species in the world. About 50% of all species are endemic. For vascular plants alone, 2,698 species are endemic to Chile. I would challenge anyone who dismisses these 3,000 species of regional importance as not representing the country’s impressive biodiversity.

In fact, there are complete plant families that are endemic to Chile. This uniqueness only attests to the importance of endemism for biodiversity, and conservation as a whole. There are three families endemic to Chile. The Lactoridaceae is a family of flowering shrubs endemic to a specific forest on Robinson Crusoe Island, of the Juan Fernandez Islands. The Thyrsopteridaceae family is also found in the Juan Fernandez Islands. This tree fern family, however, has given rise to a only one species – Thyrsopteris elegans (shown below). The Gomortegaceae family is endemic to the coastal  region of central Chile. Also producing only a single species, Gomortega keule, this tree is facing threat of extinction due to over-harvesting and deforestation. The tree produces an edible fruit, that is rather sweet and commonly used to make a kind of marmalade (also pictured below).


Images of Thyrsopteris elegans


The fruit of Gomortega keule


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