SA litchi growers upbeat on exports after U.S. approval
Producers are estimating exports will reach 3,600 metric tons (MT) this year compared with 2,600MT in 2011, which was a poorer season due to hot and dry weather during flowering.
South Africa Subtropical Growers Association chief executive officer Derek Donkin, said the U.S. was a new and valuable market for the country which producers have actively been pursuing for the last ten years.
"Growers are really enthusiastic, it provides an extra market and will improve the profitability of litchi growing," he said.
South Africa also benefits from the fact its season from mid-November to February plugs a gap in the international supply calendar.
Competition and market windows
The largest producers, China and Vietnam have their harvest from May until June, which coinicides with the U.S.' domestic producers in Florida.
"We are counterseasonal to China. There's not continuity of litchi production all year round. The seasons in producing countries are very short, not more than two to three months at the most."
Other countries such as Israel produce from June until September, leaving Madagascar, Réunion Island and Mauritius as the main producers with the same season as South Africa.
Donkin is optimistic about litchis continuing to sell well despite the current economic climate in Europe, currently the main export market, and the U.S.
"It's considered a luxury may be, but it is bought more by ethnic groups who I think are still willing to pay for it. People will often continue buying good food instead of going for a holiday or buying a new car. There's a recession but people aren't struggling for basic sustenance."
South African litchi growing areas
Litchis are grown in the north-eastern part of South Africa in the Malelane and Komatipoort areas adjacent to the Kruger National Park, as well as in Nelspruit, Tzaneen and Louis Trichardt.
Currently, 1,200 hectares of land is devoted to litchi planting with most farmers also growing other crops such as avocadoes to complement the litchi season.
U.S. inspection authorities recently gave approval for South African litchi imports, provided they are checked by the relevant South African authorities to be free of pest before irradiation.
According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture economic report, imports of litchis are expected to increase because of the country's growing immigrant Asian community.
Litchis transport well but because of their high sugar content they are susceptible to mould.
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