The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Pailin Longan Association (PLA) are fast-tracking negotiations for market access to China in a race against time to reach a prompt and meaningful resolution to the plight facing longan growers before peak harvest season.
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.
According to Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon, in Cambodia the fruit, branded as “Pailin longan”, is mostly grown in the provinces of Pailin and Battambang, and in parts of Preah Vihear province.
Farmers and exporters to Thailand have been dealing with severe market pressures following the neighbouring country’s complete halt in purchases of Cambodian longan, after China on August 13 imposed a ban on Thai longan over contamination with mealybugs, which it lifted just four days later.
The harvest typically occurs from August to end-December, peaking in November, according to the PLA.
Pailin longan is expected to be the third Cambodian fruit to be officially exported directly to the Chinese market, after bananas and, more recently, mangoes, according to the agriculture minister. But as the ministry’s director-general for Agriculture Ngin Chhay previously told The Post, Chinese authorities only consider a single product per country at a time to import.
PLA vice-chairman Suon Chum said the agriculture and commerce ministries have submitted a formal proposal to the Chinese side to negotiate phytosanitary requirements for the export of fresh and frozen Pailin longan to China.
He remarked that Cambodia has sufficient capacity to supply longan to the Chinese market, thanks to a $5 million processing plant invested by a Chinese party that is ready to start production.
“We have yet to bring the plant online because we don’t have a permit to export directly to China – negotiations on phytosanitary requirements with China are still underway,” he said.
He added that the factory has the capacity to dry about 30 tonnes of longan per hour and package hundreds of tonnes per day.
“The agriculture ministry has made great efforts to secure market access to China for Pailin longan,” Chum said, alluding to a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) signed by Cambodia and China on October 12 that will enter into force 30 days after both Parliaments ratify the deal.
“We’ve nearly achieved market access to China for longan, all things considered. It’s time,” he added.
The FTA will eliminate tariffs on a wide range of products, including longan.
According to the agriculture minister, Pailin longan cultivation has reached 13,608ha nationwide, of which 7,000ha will be harvested this season, expected to yield about 110,000 tonnes.
The trees yield an average of between seven and 30 tonnes per hectare depending on crop maintenance.
PLA members grow Pailin longan on 2,900ha in Pailin, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey and are expected to produce 50,000 tonnes this year, or nearly half of the national total.