South Africa: Litchi industry eyes future in Far Eastern markets

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South Africa: Litchi industry eyes future in Far Eastern markets

South Africa is gearing up for its second season of litchi exports to the U.S. market and currently testing cultivars that are more suited to Asian consumers' palates.shutterstock_133493618-litchis-with-leaves

Speaking to, South African Subtropical Growers' Association (Subtrop) CEO Derek Donkin said shipments to the North American market would kick off over the coming couple of weeks.

"Last year the exports were experimental, so they were very small volumes," he said.

"But the upturn was good in terms of quality and the return to growers was satisfactory as well, so it is planned there will be more exports starting in the next couple of weeks to the USA via airfreight."

It is not clear how much fruit will likely be shipped to the market. 

Total industry production is expected to remain stable this year at around 4,400 metric tons (MT), of which around 2,800MT is due for export. 

Growing conditions had been very dry up until two or three weeks ago when there was some rain which boosted fruit quality, according to Donkin.

"This time last year we had some heatwaves that ruined quite a big proportion of the export crop, but the temperatures have been fairly mild as far as summer temperatures go, which has been good for the development of the fruit," he said.

Despite recently gaining access to the U.S. market, Donkin said it seemed as though total planted hectareage had actually decreased slightly over the last year.

"We've done a rerun of what our hectares are and there are actually less - lots of orchards have gone redundant or people have taken trees out," he said.

"There are some litchis being planted by established farmers that are doing well in certain areas, but overall there’s no real growth in the industry.

"It takes probably seven or eight years before a tree starts bearing significantly, so the uptake of opportunities in the states will be fairly slow and over a fairly long period."

Donkin said the main challenges for the industry over the coming years would be accessing new markets and growing in current ones.

"There are many things involved, all the way down form basic production research to become more productive, and then also research on post-harvest treatments to preserve shelf life better or to overcome phytosanitary barriers," he said.

"So that work is continuing, then on the other side the industry has imported quite a few new litchi cultivars from Israel and Australia which would be more suited to the Eastern palate - for example to export to China where we see future growth."

However, he emphasized this would by no means be something that would happen overnight.

"It's a fairly long-term project - it takes while for trees to come into production. Proper testing of new cultivars also takes many years," he said.

"That is in process and that’s where we see the litchi industry going in the future, still supplying markets like Europe and the USA, but also supplying into the Far East."

He said litchis were on the list for gaining access to China, but pears and avocados were ahead in the queue.



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