Cambodia is expected to officially export its first batch of fresh Pailin longan to China in September after a lengthy authorisation process, as agriculture ministry officials caution that initial levels of exports could be undermined by subsisting supply chain challenges.

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

Senior Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries official Ke Monthivuth said that after preliminary inspections, the ministry’s General Directorate of Agriculture had forwarded a final list of 64 longan orchards and seven packaging plants that intend to export to China in the first phase to the top Chinese customs authority (GACC) for authorisation.

Following the initial exports, which he indicated would most likely begin during the harvest season, Monthivuth affirmed that interested parties could once again apply to be part of the drive to boost exports of fresh longan to China.

The harvest typically occurs from August to end-December, peaking in November, according to the Pailin Longan Association.

However, with a variety of uncertainties remaining, such as the capacity of packaging plants and the number of orders placed by the Chinese market, he declined to hazard a guess at how high the export volume might go.

Additionally, other challenges persist which may undercut longan exports, including China’s zero Covid-19 strategy and the accompanying import restrictions, as well as a shortage of cold storage facilities for transporting fresh agricultural products that has driven rental prices more than threefold compared to pre-pandemic rates, he said.

Monthivuth is the head of the directorate’s Plant Protection, Sanitary and Phytosanitary Department.

After bananas and mangoes, longan is set to be the third fresh Cambodian fruit to be officially exported directly to the Chinese market, and a list of other agricultural products are expected to follow in the years to come.

But to the dismay of agriculture sector players, Chinese authorities only consider a single product per country at a time to import, in a process that requires phytosanitary and other inspections.

Cambodian longan typically makes it on the Chinese market via neighbouring countries, where it is first shipped, and then repackaged and sold to China mixed in with local produce.

Pailin provincial Department of Agriculture director Say Sophat told The Post that although the harvest may be gaining traction by September, Pailin longan growers and orchard owners who are registered with the directorate and certified for GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) account for just 30 per cent.

Pailin Longan Agricultural Production Cooperative (PLAPC) president Suos Siyat earlier affirmed that just about 30 per cent of the province’s 2,000 farming households grow crops through a programme associated with GAP, and that the cultivation standards of the remaining 70 per cent are not up to par in most cases.

Sophat said: “We always advise farmers and orchard owners in Pailin to register and take part in training courses on agricultural practices to obtain permission to export fresh longan to China once they are officially allowed to be exported.

“But, most farmers are waiting to come and register only when they are able to export. We can’t force them to do anything, but we’ll keep guiding them on how to grow [longan] in line with the techniques and standards set by buyers and hence be able to export,” he said.

According to the provincial agriculture chief, the area under longan cultivation in Pailin is about 4,000ha. He said that the bulk of Pailin longan grown nationwide is either sold domestically or to Thailand – most of which are informal, passing through border corridors.

In neighbouring Battambang province, the cultivation area is “about 7,000ha”, of which trees mature enough to harvest account for “more than 5,000ha”, according to provincial Department of Agriculture director Chhim Vachira.

He noted that using agrochemicals to ensure that Pailin longan trees bear fruit in August-September and that orders are fulfilled is a possibility.

He said that while his department “is ready with enough exports”, officials are working to complete a number of final tasks involving farmers and plantation owners.

“We are insisting that farmers as well as plantation owners understand the various technicalities, laws and standards, because any export to China will require us to follow GAP and clearly register our plantations to make management easier, and avoid using wrong techniques for planting and maintenance, which could jeopardise other plantations,” he said.

The latest ministry figures show that Pailin longan cultivation has reached 13,608ha nationwide – mostly in Banteay Meanchey, Battambang and Pailin provinces – of which 8,000ha are harvestable with annual output of more than 100,000 tonnes. The trees yield an average of between 15 and 20 tonnes per hectare depending on crop maintenance.