Natural-products companies based in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere have steadily built a market for maca, a small turnip-like root that grows in high mountain areas, and that is believed to give a burst of energy, especially as a sort of natural Viagra.
This year a flood of buyers from China swooped into the Junin region of central Peru to buy up as much of the root as possible. That led to a tenfold increase in the price of maca, and in some cases even more, growers say.
Peruvian exporters say the frenzy to find maca has led to broken long-term supply contracts. Global natural-products companies say they are in danger of being pushed out of the market. Police say the aggressive demand has led to sometimes violent thefts of sacks of maca in Peru.
Sales of semiprocessed maca, dried and ground up on small farms and processing plants in the area, have boomed. The government of Peru has sounded the alarm bell that raw maca is also being smuggled out. Officials say the Peruvian maca is used to improve lesser-quality maca grown in China.
Through September, the value of legal maca exports to China rose to $6 million, compared with $540,000 for all of 2013, according to Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism.
Read more at The Wall Street Journal.