‘We’re ready’: Longan sector gears up on cusp of first export to China

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is eagerly anticipating a thumbs-up from Chinese customs soon, to sign a protocol that would allow the official direct export of fresh Cambodian longan to China, following a round of site inspections and risk assessments last week.

These were conducted via video link on three orchards – two in Pailin province and one in Battambang’s Banan district – and two packaging factories in Pailin and Kampong Speu provinces, in collaboration with the ministry and Chinese embassy representatives, according to official accounts.

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.

After bananas and mangoes, longan is set to be the third fresh Cambodian fruit to be officially exported directly to the Chinese market, and a list of other agricultural products are expected to follow in the years to come.

But to the dismay of agriculture sector players, Chinese authorities only consider a single product per country at a time to import, in a process that requires phytosanitary and other inspections.

Cambodian longan typically makes it on the Chinese market via neighbouring countries, where it is first shipped, and then repackaged and sold to China mixed in with local produce. But the protocol could change that, allowing the fruit to be directly shipped to the East Asian market.

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon on January 12 confirmed last week’s site inspections and risk assessments, telling The Post that Chinese customs had yet to give the green light for the protocol’s signing.

The rules in the document would most likely require longan exporters to install accompanying cold storage facilities before they are allowed to ship the fruit to China, he said.

Khat Borin, director of the Agriculture and Agricultural Production Bureau under the Battambang provincial Department of Agriculture, accompanied the ministry and embassy officials on the orchard inspection in Banan district, which borders Battambang town to the southwest.

Samples of trees, of the Pailin longan variety, were examined to determine compliance with phytosanitary and other technical requirements imposed by China, he told The Post.

“The Chinese Customs Administration scrutinised the trunks, branches and fruit of the longan via video link, and afterwards the embassy representatives compiled a report to be sent to Chinese customs for further review.

“We haven’t gotten word of the results yet, but the agriculture department is currently preparing more documents concerning this work,”Borin said.

The department has been pushing for plantation owners and farmers in the province to adopt Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), he said, noting that just over 40 farming households cultivating a variety of crops had received GAP certification, although hundreds grow Pailin longan.

Pailin provincial Department of Agriculture director Say Sophat emphasised that China requires very thorough and unambiguous inspections and risk assessments before authorising imports.

He said Chinese customs had yet to identify perceived areas of improvement, and confirmed that embassy representatives had filed the results of the evaluations for the authorities to look over.

But even as the Kingdom readies to ship longan to China, a considerable share of the province’s farmers do not have a full grasp of the benefits of the GAP initiative, he noted.

“Little by little, farmers who had once grown other crops are turning to Pailin longan cultivation, with high expectations for the Chinese market as well as for not having to rely solely on Thailand,” Sophat said.

According to the provincial agriculture chief, the area under longan cultivation in Pailin is about 4,000ha, compared with 7,000ha in neighbouring Battambang.

Pailin Longan Agricultural Production Cooperative (PLAPC) president Suos Siyat indicated that a positive response from China would compel the PLAPC to do more to encourage farmers to embrace cultivation and maintenance practices that meet Chinese standards.

He pointed out that just about 30 per cent of Pailin’s 2,000 farming households grow crops through a programme associated with GAP, and that the cultivation standards of the remaining 70 per cent are not up to par in most cases.

“We’re ready. Some farmers have started to expand their cultivation areas, and the cooperative has been recruiting growers into its ranks to make management and information-sharing easier, and drive the Pailin longan market,” Siyat said.

The ministry has called on owners of orchards and packaging plants to ensure an adequate level of control against pests and other harmful elements, and apply at the General Directorate of Agriculture to export fresh Pailin longan to China.

The protocol is expected to allow for the export of not just Pailin longan, but other varieties of the fruit as long as they meet its requirements and other pertinent rules.

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