Fresh Pailin longan’s debut on Chinese tech giant Alibaba Group’s online-commerce ecosystem has ignited hopes that the locally-grown soapberry will reach a broader audience in China and further afield, according to industry insiders.

To recap, longan on October 27 became the third Cambodian fruit to be officially exported directly to China in fresh form, after bananas and mangoes, following months of inspections and other preparations.

Longan – also known by the botanical name Dimocarpus longan – is a tropical evergreen tree species native to Asia that produces white-fleshed edible fruit of the soapberry family, which also includes lychees and rambutan. The most renowned variety is the Pailin longan, named after Cambodia’s second smallest province by area, which borders Chanthaburi and Trat in Thailand.

The soapberry – whose name derives from “dragon eye”, as used in different varieties of Chinese – is typically harvested from August to end-December each year, with peak season in November, according to the Pailin Longan Association (PLA).

Neang Samrithkomar, Cambodian consul-general in eastern China’s Shanghai city, confirmed to local media on December 21 that an event was held nine days earlier in nearby Hangzhou, Zhejiang – where Alibaba Group is based – marking the official green light for legitimate listings of Pailin longan on the tech powerhouse’s e-marketplaces.

Samrithkomar unveiled plans – which he said are backed by Alibaba Group – to import 20,000 tonnes of Pailin longan a year from Cambodia for sale on the online platforms operated by the multinational conglomerate, which reportedly sells no inventory of its own.

He highlighted the potential of Alibaba Group’s e-commerce ecosystem in familiarising China’s “more than 1.4 billion” consumer market with Cambodian agricultural products, and improving the livelihoods of the Kingdom’s farmers.

And he claimed that Cambodian-grown mangoes and bananas too could someday make their way onto the platforms – which include, AliExpress, Taobao, Tmall and 1688.

PLA head Siyat told The Post on December 22 that official Pailin longan exports to China passed the 2,000-tonne mark in the 57 days since authorisation was given, and that there are no signs of stopping.

He portrayed Alibaba as a crucial opening into Chinese markets for Pailin longan that also serves as an introduction to the local variety of the fruit for local and international audiences.

"I am very happy and honoured that our longan is being marketed on Alibaba, this’ll encourage exporters and related companies to expand and grow even more,” he said, expressing hope that the soapberry would resonate with Chinese consumers.

To this end, Siyat called on plantation owners and managers to pull out all the stops to improve quality and ensure compliance with export rules, and achieve a meaningful boost in international sales.

Phot Saphanborey, board director chief of Pechenda Fruit Production PFP Co Ltd, a company that cleans, processes and packages agricultural products, agreed that Alibaba would further raise the profile of Pailin longan on the international stage.

He shared that, since October 27, businesses from China, Thailand, Malaysia and elsewhere have started contacting his company, expressing interest in exporting longan.

However, with a daily processing capacity of 60-90 tonnes, Pechenda must prioritise its clients, as it finds the financing needed to expand and meet the growing demand, he admitted.

Nationwide, annual Pailin longan production capacity is currently estimated at 100 kilotonnes, and expected to grow by 10-15 per cent a year in the near term, Saphanborey said.

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina on October 27 confirmed that eight companies had received official authorisation to export fresh longan to China, as well as package the fruit to be shipped there. Saphanborey later confirmed that all eight are Chinese.

The minister was speaking at a ceremony marking the Cambodian government’s authorisation of the direct export of fresh longan to China, more than a month after Beijing had given the final all-clear.

Although a list of which of the eight companies exported the fruit on the first day was not immediately available, one of these was China Jinkwoayuan Import Export (Cambodia) Co Ltd, confirmed a representative who declined to be named.

He affirmed that his company would on October 27-28 ship a total of 13 containers – each loaded with 26 tonnes of longan – from Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, which he estimated would take five days to reach Guangzhou.

Online media outlet Fresh News revealed that Seasonfresh (Cambodia) Co Ltd would export some of the Pailin longan to be sold on at least one of Alibaba Group’s e-marketplaces. Seasonfresh, however, is headed by local agro-industry veteran Chran Ponny.

Chinese authorities in general only consider a single fresh fruit per country at a time to import. With the first official batches of longan having arrived on Chinese shores, a formal decision on the fourth fruit to export to China in fresh form has yet to be made.

Nonetheless, Tina at the time did mention potential contenders to present to Beijing for formal negotiations, such as fragrant coconuts, durian, pineapple, jackfruit and lotus seeds. He also noted that edible bird’s nest, a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, could also be on the table for export talks.

Citing Cambodian agriculture ministry data, the Chinese embassy reported that the Kingdom’s agricultural exports to China in the 42 months ended June 30 amounted to 2.4 million tonnes, worth $1.942 billion.

The embassy listed fresh bananas; milled rice; dried cassava, tapioca starch and cassava pulp; dried and fresh mangoes; cashew nuts; and cocoa powder as prime Cambodian agricultural exports to China over the 1,277-day period.