Taking Colombia’s natural cosmetics to the global marketplace

Taking Colombia’s natural cosmetics to the global marketplace

UNIDO works together with Colombia's testing laboratories, calibration laboratories, inspection organizations, certification organizations, suppliers of reference materials and proficiency testing providers. The result is that the country’s quality infrastructure is reinforced and the whole national quality system is strengthened.

01 Mar 2018

The demand for sacha inchi – a plant that has been cultivated in the Amazon rainforest for the past 3,000 years – is soaring in natural beauty stores around the world. Its star-shaped fruit contains seeds which are much in demand due to their unique properties and benefits for the condition of hair and skin.

The popularity of natural products is on the rise. Countries in the Andean region – where the sacha inchi grows – can take advantage of their rich biodiversity to develop, market and export unique natural cosmetics.

This scenario is particularly favourable for Colombia, thanks to the country’s wide biodiversity. Already a known regional leader in the production of cosmetics, the country’s total revenue in the sector amounted to US$2.9bn in 2016. Cosmetics are the country’s fourth biggest export industry, with an average growth of 7% per year since 2010.

Unfortunately, Colombia is yet to take full advantage of its export capacity. Markets like Europe and China remain largely out of reach because Colombian products often fail to meet their regulatory standards.

sacha inchi

Government regulators tend to be very strict when it comes to allowing foreign cosmetics into national markets, mainly because of concerns about exposing consumers to harmful chemicals.  Companies wanting to export must comply with national and international standards which ensure their products are safe for those who use them.

To overcome this barrier, companies must prove their products comply with international quality standards. They then receive product certificates which are internationally recognized. Once certified, products can be sent to export markets.

In an effort to increase local companies’ access to international markets, the Colombian government joined forces with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and with funding from the government of Switzerland and Colombia set up a project called Safe+. UNIDO works together with Colombia testing laboratories, calibration laboratories, inspection organizations, certification organizations, suppliers of reference materials and proficiency testing providers. The result is that the country’s quality infrastructure is reinforced and the whole national quality system is strengthened.

“We support the cosmetics industry to export natural ingredient-based products to new markets by developing a competitive and sustainable export environment,” said Juan Pablo Diaz Castillo, a UNIDO Industrial Development Officer.

UNIDO also supports key players within the value chain—from growers to processors and exporters—to improve their quality, private and sustainability standards.

laboratory

That is the case for Vhera Lucci, a local cosmetics company that has benefited from the project. Many of its products are made from the sacha inchi plant.

“Our cosmetics help us create harmony between the person who uses our product on their skin, the environment and local communities,” said Julian Gonzales, one of Vhera Lucci’s founders.

Giving local producers and small enterprises access to global markets indirectly benefits local communities too.

The sacha inchi is the perfect example. Because the plant matures very quickly – its first flowers come five months after being planted, and it bears seeds around the eighth month – farmers can start earning a living within the first year.

This makes the crop a very competitive substitute for the coca plant, which is cultivated in South American countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, mainly for the production of cocaine.  In these countries which are faced with the challenge of putting an end to the cultivation of coca for the illicit cocaine trade, helping farmers find viable alternatives is of utmost importance.

Thanks to the Safe+ project the natural cosmetics industry in Colombia is increasingly able to comply with international standards. With the help of UNIDO, the country is taking its first steps towards becoming a global leader in the natural cosmetics sector.