Pioneering InspiraFarms’ pay-as-you-chill cold storage as a service: Omar Jalife Castaños from Agroparque de Yecapixtla
Omar Jalife Castaños is an entrepreneur, with experience in the design, planning, commissioning, and operation of business models, mainly in the food industry. A developer of scalable business models with regional impact in economic and social affairs, he has collaborated with the Mexican Government creating and executing public policies, and is part of the group of companies that makes up the Consorcio Agroparque de Yecapixtla in the state of Morelos.
The agroparque is a physical space that hosts different agricultural activities, from production, processing, agrologistics and other aspects that can support the region’s supply chains and their participation in local and international markets. Agroparque de Yecapixtla is jointly integrated by agribusinesses with a trajectory in production and export markets, and involving many small farmer suppliers that have access to a concentrated group of postharvest services, allowing them to improve their production, generate value and commercialize their products.
Agroparque de Yecapixtla has made important supply agreements to distribute tomatoes in the United States and Canada, for which it must double its tomato production capacity, and many small farmers are being integrated as suppliers. The partnership for pioneering the InspiraFarms’ on-demand model – cold storage as a service, will serve this expansion by facilitating early access to cold chain for many speciality tomato farmers in the confluence area of the states of Puebla, Morelos and Mexico,
Please tell us about your business. You are a producer but also working with and sourcing from small farmers.
We are an agribusiness group of companies, we produce and we work under schemes of “protected agriculture” and we also work with small producers to help them in the packing process and to enable their produce to reach valuable markets. We are producers and in the past, we have operated for export markets, but more recently we started supplying to national markets. We work in several regions of Mexico, central, north and southeast. We produce tomatoes, avocados, lemons and figs and we work with more than 800 small producers.
The on-demand project with InspiraFarms will be operating initially in the south-east of Mexico, in Aquixtla, in the State of Puebla where we have a concentration of our own tomato production and a network of small farmer suppliers of tomatoes. But the idea is to expand the model into other regions where we have other crop concentrations. The pilot will serve to test the viability of the model in Mexico, and we hope to quickly expand it into other areas.
What is the agro-exporter context like in Mexico? What are the main challenges and opportunities, especially for small producers?
The main bottleneck is the lack of infrastructure, especially those assets required for consolidating a cold chain, such as refrigerated trucks, cold storage, and structures for managing and distributing produce efficiently along the supply chain – in a timely and cost-effective manner. Those assets need to be present along the entire supply chain, especially at the beginning of the chain and close to production points, but that is not the case in Mexico.
Some of these types of assets exist in Mexico, but its proliferation is low mainly because there is a lack of financial investment that is adapted to the needs and conditions of agribusinesses.
You will be pioneering the InspiraFarms on-demand, pay-as-you-chill cold storage service. Can you tell us what was your biggest motivation for participating?
What I believe is that InspiraFarms is promising not only the innovative technology but combining it with an added value proposition, particularly with access to finance, in which InspiraFarms is integrating different financial mechanisms designed to serve the needs of agricultural producers. For instance, in Mexico, there is a large number of suppliers of packing centres and cold storage, but there few that come with a financial model that considers capacities and the sustainability of producers, which really helps to add value to a supply chain. So this combination of factors proposed by InspiraFarms is something that doesn’t exist in Mexico and will be a game changer that will facilitate the expansion of rural infrastructure.
How are you planning to operate and how you will integrate small farmers?
We have a very attractive commercial platform that integrates numerous small farmers. So we believe that in partnership with InspiraFarms we can deliver cold storage units to many small farmers, helping to improve logistics of efficient product delivery to the final consumer, in terms of reduced time and reduced costs, but also offering fair prices so that the small producer can receive more value from their harvest. So, as a company, our aim is to generate social impact by helping to improve incomes for small farmers and also supporting consumers, as they will receive better quality products at lower prices.
Our main role will be facilitating the connection between the small farmers, InspiraFarms on-demand users, and markets and commercial opportunities. So our purpose is to close the virtuous circle created by InspiraFarms – of bringing the technology and the infrastructure to the first mile – by us bringing the commercial opportunities to those farmers, and thus facilitating solid cash returns that guarantee the service sustainability. Initially, we will operate this first on-demand cold storage unit in the role of facilitation of the supply chains, coordinating them and guaranteeing the product is delivered in the most efficient way. That is our role.
How do you see the on-demand model can be scalable in the near future?
A regional approach will be key, so we can determine in advance the potential in terms of product, volumes and numbers of on-demand units, and how this can offer sustainability. First, it will be necessary to identify by area the different supply chains that can reach the potential volumes, and the potential markets in which these products can be commercialized. Another key consideration is to evaluate the context, what services and infrastructure exists in that region, such as logistics services, transportation, packing housing etc.
In this way the technology and the model will be brought into situations where the circle of production and markets is closed, assuring producers have at hand all the tools to supply their produce efficiently. This will be key for assuring the model`s sustainability.
What are your plans for the future?
We are already knocking on doors to identify new production hubs, but starting from a market perspective. We look to reach aggressive agricultural supply contracts, it means assuring good commercialization agreements and then building the supply chain and bringing in opportunities like InspiraFarms’ pay-as-you-chill on-demand cold storage service, that will help us to consolidate efficient operations.