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Industry prepares the ground for longan

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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. POST STAFF

Industry prepares the ground for longan

Cambodian Xing Can Shi Pin Co Ltd has reportedly earmarked $11.2 million to set up a factory to process cashew nuts and produce dried mangoes, pineapples, jackfruits and longan, in Kampong Speu province’s northwesternmost Oral district, offering a ray of solace to the Kingdom’s beleaguered longan farmers for the future.

The Pailin Longan Agricultural Production Cooperative (PLAPC) expects the facility to serve as a useful bargaining chip to secure improved market access for Cambodian longan to international markets, especially China.

Longan growers and exporters to Thailand have been dealing with severe market pressures following the neighbouring country’s complete halt in purchases of the fruit from Cambodia.

The purchase freeze came after China on August 13 imposed a ban on Thai longan over contamination with mealybugs, sap-sucking insects of the Pseudococcidae family that excrete a wax that covers and protects them from predators – resembling a white fuzz – but also makes them difficult to remove.

According to Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries secretary of state Hean Vannhorn, mealybugs generally do not make longan toxic to humans, but can serve as a medium for several plant diseases, making them species of international phytosanitary concern.

China lifted the ban just four days later on August 17. But the damage had been done.

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.

According to Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon, in Cambodia the fruit – branded as “Pailin longan” – is grown in 14 provinces, mostly in Pailin, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey.

‘Resuscitate the market’

On August 23, the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) greenlit a final registration certificate for Cambodian Xing Can Shi Pin’s factory, noting that the project is expected to deliver 154 new jobs, and is located on National Road 44 in Taing Sroeng village of eastern Oral’s Sangke Satoap commune, near the border with Samrong Tong district’s Tompoa Meas commune (GPS Coordinates: 11.602N, 104.3015E).

PLAPC president Suos Siyat welcomed the plant, hoping it will absorb a significant share of Pailin longan to process for export.

"If the factory truly comes to be, it’ll help to resuscitate the market down the line for Pailin longan farmers across the country," he told The Post.

Today, phytosanitary requirements are the main obstacle to exporting longan, he said.

But looking on the plus side, Siyat expects Phnom Penh and Beijing to reach a final phytosanitary protocol for the export of fresh and frozen Pailin longan to China early next year.

"In my book, the more fruit processing facilities are up and running, the more longan market issues will be able to fall into place, above all the direct export of longan to the Chinese market,” he said.

One at a time

According to the Kingdom’s National Trade Repository: “A phytosanitary certificate certifies that the plants or plant products covered by the certificate have been inspected according to appropriate procedures and are considered to be free from quarantine pests and practically free from other injurious pests.

“The presentation of a phytosanitary certificate is a mandatory requirement for import of certain plant products and therefore must be obtained prior to export as to allow import at the country of destination.”

Cambodian longan typically makes it on the Chinese market via Thailand, where it is first shipped, and then repackaged and sold to China mixed in with Thai produce. But Cambodia wants to export directly to more countries, in part to ramp up sales and improve the livelihoods of growers.

Pailin longan is set 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 noted, Chinese authorities only consider a single product per country at a time to import.

Earlier this month, Cambodia and Vietnam agreed on phytosanitary requirements permitting Cambodian longan to enter the Vietnamese market, according to the ministry.

The ministry said it and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation are working with the relevant authorities of China and Thailand to conclude talks over phytosanitary requirements for longan exports as soon as possible.

Talks underway

Pailin Longan Association (PLA) vice-chairman Suon Chum previously 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.

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. One tonne sells for around 1.8 million riel ($440).

The trees yield an average of between seven and 30 tonnes per hectare depending on crop maintenance.

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

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