Cambodia formally exported 3,422.25 tonnes of fresh longan to China in the first three months of 2023, as reported by the General Directorate of Agriculture (GDA), and insiders are optimistic about investments in the sector, reporting improvements in the market for the edible white-fleshed fruits since the beginning of the fourth quarter of 2022.
This progress is said to have been jump-started when 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 preparatory work.
For comparison, Pailin Longan Agricultural Production Cooperative (PLAPC) president Suos Siyat noted in an interview on December 22 – or 57 days after the maiden shipment – that formal exports of “Pailin longan” to China had already passed the 2,000-tonne mark.
Historically, growers had been largely reliant on informal channels to sell their fresh longan, often to Thailand for re-export. However, Covid-19 restrictions in China drastically diminished demand among Thai traders for Cambodian longan, sharply driving down prices of the fruit and forcing considerable amounts of it to go to waste.
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 the Chinese language – is typically harvested from August to end-December each year, with peak season in November, according to industry insiders.
The PLAPC’s Siyat told The Post on May 9 that, on the whole, farmers and owners of large plantations hardly ever worry anymore about sharp drops in prices or not finding any buyers, at least not since the first China-bound consignments of fresh longan departed from Cambodian shores.
He commented that exports of fresh longan grown in the northwestern provinces had been “entirely dependent” on Thailand before the Chinese market opened up, improving prospects for not only the fresh fruit, but also for investment in the processing and packaging thereof.
“The Chinese market has made a significant contribution to growth in Cambodian longan production,” he stressed.
Pechenda Fruit Production PFP Co Ltd boss Phot Saphanborey claimed that although prices of fresh longan may not have seen the upsurge that some had expected, farmers, growers and plantation owners generally do not face any major problems.
The Chinese market “has inspired confidence among growers in the market and price”, he affirmed.
He explained that the first and third quarters of each year will be peak export season to China, while demand may shift to seasonal fruits such as durian, mangosteen and rambutan in the second and fourth – which cannot as yet be exported through formal channels.
In the first quarter, fresh longan – which was most likely purchased directly from growers in bulk – cost an average of about 3,200 riel ($0.80) per kilogramme, he said, adding that the fruit found on the market in the April-May period tends to be small and low-quality – due to hot weather and low precipitation levels.
Saphanborey shared that longan trees typically take four years to reach maturity and can remain productive until the age of 60, bearing one crop a year. He said that 1ha of 10-40-year-old trees can produce more than 10 tonnes of longan per annum on average.
Battambang provincial Department of Commerce director Kim Hout on May 9 said prices for fresh longan fruit in his province are higher than in previous year, rising from a 3,600 riel per-kg average in the August-December 2022 period, to 4,000 riel in January-February, to 4,500 riel March-to-date.
Although optimistic that prices will remain high by historical norms and orders from the Chinese market will keep coming in, Hout suggested longan farmers work hard to ensure the quality of their produce.
Chinese authorities in general only consider a single fresh fruit at a time per country to import. However, after longan, a formal decision on the fourth fruit to be exported to China in fresh form has yet to be made.
Still, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina has mentioned potential contenders to present to Beijing for formal negotiations, such as the fragrant coconut, durian, pineapple, jackfruit and lotus seed. He also suggested that edible bird’s nest, a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, could also be on the table for export talks.
Tina was speaking at the October 27 ceremony marking the inaugural direct formal exports of fresh Cambodian longan to China, which he hailed as a “long way forward for Cambodian agricultural products”.
On the global market, the 2021 total export and import values for fresh longan were $4.19 billion and $4.13 billion, respectively, up 18.92 per cent and 15.82 per cent year-on-year, according to Seoul-based Tridge.
The top 10 exporters were Canada ($443.6M; up 3.08%), Thailand ($378.2M; up 47.25%), Poland ($267.8M; up 21.70%), Peru ($241.4M; up 7.75%), Malaysia ($233.7M; up 95.45%), Chile ($233.0M; up 10.07%), the US ($198.0M; up 15.78%), Netherlands ($153.1M; up 16.27%), Serbia ($137.8M; up 14.28%) and Mexico ($134.7M; up 0.41%). All percent changes are year-on-year.
Similarly, the top 10 importers were the US ($855.2M; up 20.93%), China ($590.6M; up 49.58%), Germany ($330.9M;
up 10.41%), France ($239.4M; up 14.77%), Canada ($199.3M; 17.82%), Netherlands ($184.4M; up 17.09%), Japan ($181.9M; up 13.39%), Poland ($148.3M; up 16.76%), Australia ($143.7M; up 1.37%) and the UK ($119.2M; down 3.28%).