Flip Franssen

Belgian pear sector still struggling 5 years after the Russian boycott: "1 in 5 about to throw in the towel"

Five years ago to the day, the Russian authorities imposed a boycott on Belgian pears - a real blow for the Belgian pear sector as 60 percent of pear exports were going to Russia. Five years later, the sector hasn't recovered yet. 

The Belgian pears built a strong reputation, with the Conférence pear as one of the shining stars. But after the Russian export market had been scrapped, Belgian pear farmers found it hard to find an alternative. Estonia was one, but it was the only one. The Belgian farmers' union Boerenbond is calling on the federal government for financial help after the Russian president Putin extended the boycott to at least 2020. 

It never rains but it pours: in the years after the Russian sanctions, pear farmers were confronted with extreme weather conditions: late periods of  frost in spring, long dry spells and storms. If pears survive, they are often damaged and not fit to be sold. In order to limit the risks, farmers need to invest in protection measures. However, while they can sell their best pears at 30 eurocents per kilogram, they are spending 50 cents to grow them. 

If things don't improve, "one in five pear farmers may stop soon", says Luc Borgugnons, a pear farmer from Kortenaken. "We have run out of cash and we need money to invest in new markets." Exports to Mexico, China, India, Germany and the U.K. have increased, but can not fill the gap left by Russia.