By Ruben Peña
Asuncion, Nov 28 (EFEAGRO).- What started as a telephone call that could mean a million dollar prize for a group of university students has morphed into an alternative for making use of the abundant harvest of mangoes throughout the Paraguayan capital during the hot months of the year.
Paolo Stagni, who in 2018 was pursuing his economics studies at the Universidad Catolica Nuestra Señora in Asuncion, at that time with two fellow students, Gonzalo Martinez and Ignacio Rotela, designed and planned a project to provide a solution to the wastage of – and contamination caused by – the huge crop of unused fruit in the city.
“Listen closely! This call could well mean a million dollars!” was the phrase used by Stagni to promote the initiative to his friends and other interested individuals.
That was how Remango was born, the project that Stagni described in an interview with EFE as “a platform offering sustainable solutions regarding the wastage” of mangoes, a fruit that is widely grown in other latitudes but that rots everywhere on the city’s streets and sidewalks.
Remango’s mission is to salvage the greatest possible quantity of fruit and transform it into raw material for industries that produce juices, jams, ice cream, beer and yogurt.
With that concept in mind, Stagni, Martinez and Rotela entered into the competition for the Hult Prize, a contest co-sponsored by the Hult International Business School, the United Nations and former US President Bill Clinton which presents cash awards for the proposals of university students aimed at dealing with the challenges in food security, access to water, energy and education.
The contest distributes $1 million to the overall winner, and although the idea of removing mangoes from the capital streets is not new, having been undertaken in various ways over the years, the judging panel for the international competition considered the Paraguayan proposal to be an attractive one.
That was how Remango ended up among the seven winning projects in the “Food for Good” contest for 2021.
The competition, however, never went beyond the semifinal phase due to various restrictions surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic and the judging panel divided the prize money among the seven projects that had made it to that point, that is to say $150,000 for each one.
Since then, Remango has devoted its energies to collecting, processing and marketing mango-based products, an effort that – as Stagni said – has “a triple impact” from the economic, social and environmental point of view.
The mangoes are collected by recycling trucks and taken to a plant where those in the best shape are selected and converted into pulp concentrate, most of which is frozen and packaged in a sanitary manner.
The final product is sold to different industries, Martinez added.
The Remango creators plan to expand their business model into other countries like Argentina and Chile, and they are already in conversations with an organic distillery to produce a “mango-flavored brandy,” he said.
However, Remango’s impact is still limited, given that – according to Martinez – in Asuncion about 60,000 tons of the fruit rot unused over the course of three or four months each year.
Mangoes are not the only thing that are being dealt with. Monica Rivas, the coordinator of the Food Bank Foundation of Paraguay, an NGO that is part of the international Global FoodBanking network, told EFE that just in Asuncion’s Central Supply Market about 40,000 kilograms (88,000 pounds) of fruits and vegetables go bad every day and are lost to both businessmen and consumers.
Other organization have also gotten interested in this problem. That’s the case with M’bojao – a Guarani term meaning “to share” – which since 2017 has collected food that is thrown away each day by the gastronomy sector.
M’bojao director Ximena Mendoza said that the initiative seeks to help “people out on the street who don’t have access to food” and to alleviate the problem posed by the spoilage of otherwise edible food.