Growing Hope

Author: Mackenzie Greenwell
They say when given lemons, make lemonade. Purdue alumnus Carlos Odio (BSIE '65, BSCE '65) instead took oranges and parlayed them into a multinational citrus processing company.

Odio started TicoFrut in San Jose, Costa Rica, with a business partner in 1987. His partner has since died, but the company remains family owned. Three of his four sons are also engineers and all have earned MBAs.

Carlos Odio

"What we do touches thousands of people in an area of the country that is very poor," Odio says. "We've literally changed the way hundreds of families are living, for the better." Costa Rica has long been known for its coffee production, but Odio wanted to build economic stability for lowland farmers. "I saw citrus as lowland coffee," Odio says. "Growing coffee has contributed so much to my country's economic, social and political stability, but because coffee can be produced only in high altitudes, this left little or no opportunities for people in the lowlands."

Within the past few years, TicoFrut has established 11 computer centers in areas surrounding its groves. These neighboring towns, which had no electricity only two years ago, are now able to access the Internet. "With these centers, we are hoping to significantly improve the education of the children in these remote villages, thus helping reduce the gap that continues to develop around the world between those who have and those who don't," Odio says.

Ticos (Costa Ricans' nickname in Central America and the namesake of TicoFrut) are not the only ones who have benefited from Odio's contribution. In collaboration with Nicaragua's first democratically elected government, TicoFrut worked with Nicaraguan citrus farmers to establish orange plantations in their country.

TicoFrut processing plant in San Jose, Costa Rica.

"When we started plowing the fields, hundreds of land mines started popping out of the ground," Odio says. "The land had been mined in the late 1970s to stop supply flow from the U.S. through Costa Rica. Luckily, the mines were dead, none exploded, and now the area is home to a beautiful 17,500-acre orange grove."

TicoFrut owns all or a portion of 47,000 acres of orange groves and produces 16 different orange products, more than anyone else in the world. Odio says future plans include processing passion fruit, an ideal product for small growers. "It produces in nine months and generates a large income per acre," he says. "It is an ideal addition, considering where we are in Costa Rica and Nicaragua."

With common sense and a few lessons from Purdue — including stoichiometry, hydraulics and machine design to name a few — Odio, who was named Purdue's Outstanding Industrial Engineer in 2010, continues to revolutionize the citrus industry in Costa Rica.