Cambodia may formally begin commercially shipping fresh longan directly to China as early as this month, senior agriculture officials are saying, as stakeholders anxiously await for Beijing to reveal the results of a final assessment, involving the orchards as well as the processing and packaging facilities registered to produce or handle the fruit for export.

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 seen 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.

Longan is set to be the third fresh Cambodian fruit to be officially exported directly to the Chinese market, after bananas and mangoes.

Ke Monthivuth, director of the Plant Protection, Sanitary and Phytosanitary Department under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ General Directorate of Agriculture (GDA), believes that the maiden consignment of fresh longan will be sent during this harvest season, pending the final green light from Beijing.

He told The Post on September 7 that the Kingdom will be able to fulfil Chinese demand for Cambodian longan, and emphasised that supply capacity would only increase further.

The official also suggested that exports to the immense Chinese market would ensure the stability of the Pailin longan value chain and provide economic benefits to “all” farmers and stakeholders.

By the same vein, Monthivuth noted that Cambodia has formally exported fresh longan to Vietnam since 2019 following an agreement on phytosanitary requirements, with ongoing talks underway for a similar deal with Thailand.

Pailin provincial agriculture department director Say Sophat also expects the China-bound inaugural shipment of longan to leave Cambodian shores “soon”.

“We’re all done allocating a huge share of Pailin longan in preparation for export as we harvest it over September and October,” he said.

Sophat commented that Pailin longan is grown almost everywhere in Cambodia, especially in northwestern provinces such as Pailin, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey. He said that the area under longan cultivation in his province is about 3,360ha this year, all of which is of the Pailin variety.

For reference, the GDA reported the 2021 nationwide cultivation area for Pailin longan at “more than 18,000ha”, which it said could yield 131,000 tonnes of fruits per annum, meaning an average in the range of 7,054-7,306kg per hectare – relatively low as it does not account for harvestability.

By comparison, in neighbouring Battambang – with a surface area 14.6 times larger than Pailin – the area under longan cultivation is around 6,500ha, also exclusively of the Pailin variety, of which 5,200ha or roughly four-fifths are harvestable, according to Chhim Vachira, the province’s agriculture department director.

Vachira said that, as far as he knows, Beijing has authorised eight companies for the export process, two of which are based in Battambang.

“The access to export markets, especially China, will augment farmers’ incomes at a greatly increased pace, as well as revenue for the national economy,” he said.

He revealed that his department is working to empower the owners of Pailin longan orchards to register for export to China and receive training on, among other topics, technologies and methods involved in the cultivation, care, harvesting and post-harvest handling of the crops to ensure that their products comply with Beijing’s standards.

Pailin Longan Agricultural Production Cooperative president Suos Siyat enthused that “all” Pailin longan growers have “high expectations” for exports to China.

“Last month we heard from the agriculture ministry that exports may begin in the next three or four weeks, but we’ve yet to see an update,” he said.

“We’re waiting for the news.”