The Pailin Longan Association (PLA) embraced a spirit of optimism that a push to buy domestic longan, ignited by the prime minister, would save tens of thousands of tonnes of the fruit no longer able to reach their intended destinations in Thailand, amid coronavirus-related restrictions and a Chinese ban on Thai longan.
A Chinese ban on Thai longan imposed on August 13 over contamination with mealybugs has thrown a wrench into Cambodian exports of the fruit to the neighbouring country.
Industry insiders have voiced concern that Thai traders and importers will continue to cancel orders, as the harvest season ramps up in Cambodia, leaving a considerable portion of the fruit to rot. Thailand buys large volumes of Cambodian longan each year to repackage for export to China. And even though the ban was retracted on August 17, the damage is already done.
In response, Prime Minister Hun Sen launched a domestic campaign to buy longan from farmers in the seven provinces bordering Thailand, and announced a government purchasing initiative that was set to kick off on August 18.
He also tapped Hing Bun Heang, deputy chief of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office, as chairman of the team tasked with overseeing the government initiative and ensuring that as much fresh produce is bought as possible.
Cambodia’s longan harvest will then be distributed to frontline workers and border forces throughout Battambang province, according to government plans.
Longan – 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. And according to the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon, in Cambodia the fruit is mostly grown in the provinces of Pailin and Battambang, and in parts of Preah Vihear province.
PLA vice-chairman Suon Chum noted that orders have been picking up since the prime minister intervened, with traders putting in for 10 tonnes of longan on August 18 alone.
“This movement to buy longan directly from growers will bail them out, and if not all of them, it’ll incontestably better than having left them [the fruit] to spoil,” he said.
He previously pointed out that 70 per cent of Pailin longan is exported to China through Thailand and 30 per cent is supplied to the domestic market. “If the longan cannot be exported, it’ll spoil within 20 days from the date of harvest. All that longan will be discarded because we don’t have the storage facilities,” he said.
He estimated that Pailin province would harvest about 50,000 tonnes of longan this year, adding that the current wholesale price of the fruit straight from the growers falls in the range of 2,000-2,500 riel ($0.49-0.61), depending on quality.
However, he noted, a number of PLA members are still opting to sell their longan to traders instead, fearing that the government campaign would not reach them before their produce spoils.
Bun Heang told The Post on August 17 that the government would buy all the longan at the same price they would have fetched in Thailand.
Cambodian Red Cross president Bun Rany Hun Sen ordered 21 tonnes of longan to be distributed to a group of doctors and Covid-19 patients who are being treated at a number of hospitals in Phnom Penh.
Battambang provincial Department of Commerce director Kim Hout said he set up a working group to help buy longan from farmers.
Just as longan is harvested in intervals of several days, he said the purchases would be made in phases, stressing that longan would be bought directly from plantations.
“I will personally go down to the four districts that have planted longan and ascertain which farmers will actually harvest this week,” Hout said.
The provincial administration confirmed in a press release that it would join the government initiative from August 18, also emphasising that it would not buy longan from intermediaries.
It said it had designated the Veal Bek Chan football field next to the 5th Military Command headquarters in Romchek 4 village of Ratanak commune in Battambang town as the location for all government purchases from the longan farmers.
On August 12, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries called on exporters of Pailin longan to divert their products from Thailand to Vietnam in light of the Covid-related Cambodia-Thai border closures.
Cambodia and Vietnam have agreed on phytosanitary requirements permitting Cambodian longan to enter the Vietnamese market, as distributors and exporters face significant plant-protection barriers and a raft of other obstacles posed by the pandemic, the ministry said in a statement.