You’ve likely seen bottles of it on the grocery shelf between the $$$ pomegranate juice and coconut water. In fact, you probably have a specimen potted on the shelf above your kitchen sink. Aloe vera, both a staid home remedy and a flashy cure-all phenomenon, is now debuting in some South American beverages. And, of course, that means it is becoming an increasingly important crop in the region.
In Aguadas, Caldas, Colombia, an area known for its agrarian economy built on coffee, plantain, and cattle, several farmers have been replacing coffee hectarage with aloe vera over the past few years. PlantaE Aloe, a local firm founded in 2014 by Óscar Ríos, processes aloe leaves to extract their coveted gel. Ríos says the company was established with the local economy in mind, and he strives to employ mainly young first-time workers and single mothers.
As a crop, aloe vera’s benefits to the farmer include low-maintenance and low-input cultivation and simple labor requirements. Those who have replaced parts of their coffee plantations in a gamble on aloe vera have not been disappointed, noting that the financial returns are better and the work is less. Crop diversification of this sort also has many benefits, both financially and biologically.
Alpina, a Colombian beverage company and one of PlantaE Aloe’s main buyers, has a new product, “Aloe,” a dairy-aloe mixture with touted health benefits. (Watch the promotional YouTube video here.) AJE, a multinational beverage company servicing twenty-three countries of Latin America and some in Asia and Africa, has recently unveiled BIO, a new trademark, whose first iteration is “Bio Aloe,” an aloe vera-based juice drink billed to provide both health and flavor in the same bottle.
While growers in Aguadas are only supplying aloe for domestic consumption, current trends may open the way for a wider—perhaps international—dissemination and increased demands. With some smart marketing and targeted R&D, aloe vera could become an established and important cash crop among the many of Latin America.