South Africa: Litchi production bolstered by early U.S. market success
Litchi production in South Africa looks set to increase following the first successful export campaign to the U.S.
This week (beginning Jan. 4) will see the last litchi shipment transported to Mississippi following a South African export campaign that started at the beginning of December, 2015.
This was the first time the South African litchi sector has supplied the U.S. market, following long negotiations for market access. One of the conditions stipulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) includes irradiation treatment to eliminate certain pests and insects.
If the U.S. market continues to grow, South African farmers will be keen to expand plantings to keep pace with demand, according to South African Subtropical Growers' Association (Subtrop) CEO Derek Donkin.
"We're about halfway through the season at the moment, but in terms of exports to the U.S. we are nearing the tail end of the campaign which has seen smaller airfreight shipments going over to the U.S. and generally it's gone extremely well," he tells www.freshfruitportal.com.
"Right now the volumes have been relatively low, with a low tonnage because this was the first season for the U.S.
"Production has been fairly stable for the last decade but I think with the opening up of new markets such as the U.S. there will be opportunity for people to expand plantings and it's likely that if that market grows, people who currently farm litchis would expand their operations to supply the U.S. market."
Donkin says Europe has historically been South Africa's key market, but getting into the U.S. ahead of competitor countries like Madagascar is what will drive the production growth.
"Our strategy to open new markets is so that the industry can grow in South Africa. Ordinarily the major export market for many years has been Europe but getting into the U.S. is so important because it provides us with another opportunity and is a very large market in terms of its potential.
"Obviously litchis are not very well known in the U.S. but there is definitely potential to grow and at the moment our major competition in Europe is Madagascar and, as far as I know, it doesn't supply the U.S.
"Logistically it’s probably easier for us to go to the U.S. but the more options we have as an industry the better because it’s not a good idea to have all your eggs in one basket, so diversification is sensible."
Currently there are approximately 1,700 hectares under production in north eastern regions of South Africa.
"Generally these regions are warmer and frost free and because litchis are a tropical fruit, we grow it in subtropical conditions and this is where the climatic conditions are most suitable for litchi production.
“We as an association were more involved on the technical side of brokering the U.S. market access, and working together with the USDA to get the right things in place for the irradiation treatment which is now the accepted phytosanitary treatment which allows us access to the U.S.
"It’s early days but initial reports have been good in terms of the quality and the returns that have been received on some of the consignments, so I think there is definitely huge potential for expansion in the future."
Related story: South Africa trials litchi shipment to the U.S.