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Ram B. Singh*

*Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, 39 Phra Atit Road, Banglamphu, Bangkok 10200, Thailand.
It is a great pleasure and privilege for me to welcome you to the Expert Consultation on Viticulture (Grape Production) in Asia and the Pacific. May I take this opportunity to extend to all of you warm greetings on behalf of the Director-General of FAO, from my colleagues in the Regional Office and myself. Special thanks are due to you all for gathering here to contribute to this Meeting.

Mr. Chairman! Permit me to congratulate you on your election. I am sure that under your leadership we shall have a productive meeting. I also congratulate Mr. David Oag on his election as Rapporteur of this Consultation.

Grape is one of the most important fruit crops of the world. It is also one of the most ancient crops known to people. Hyams (1954) traces its antiquity to 7000 BC and states that it was associated with people as a cultivated plant long before cereals. According to De Candolle (1886), the cultivation of grape in Egypt goes back to 4000 BC.

Grape cultivation is believed to have originated in Armenia near the Caspian Sea, from where it seems to have spread westward to Europe and Eastward to Iran and Afghanistan. The crop has a wide adaptability, and grapes are now grown in every continent, under temperate, sub-tropical and tropical climatic conditions and under varied agro-ecological settings, from mountains to plains to sea coasts. However, the ideal climate for grapes is in the Mediterranean region. In its natural habitat, the grape grows and produces during the hot and dry period, and undergoes dormancy during the cold period.

The long history of grape cultivation is linked with its multiple uses as food, source of nutrition, health and medicinal value and high economic significance. In Indian, Chinese and other societies, the role of grapes in health care and cure of diseases has been emphasized since ancient times. In this context, I would urge each one of you to read the book “The Grape Cure” by Johanne Brandt, popular for the last 73 years. As regards the economic dimensions, the Indian States of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have found grapes as the most cash producing and job providing commodity. In Australia, grape wine export annually earns over 1,000 million dollars.

Countries with sizeable extent of grape cultivation in the region are China, Australia, India, Republic of Korea, Japan, Pakistan, New Zealand, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar. The total area under cultivation in these countries is estimated to be around 370,000 hectares, with a total production of about 5,000,000 metric tonnes and average yield of about 14 tonnes per hectare. There are wide variations in average national yields and from variety to variety, ranging from 5 to 50 tonnes per hectare. India, with the national average yield of 30 tonnes per hectare, is the world leader in the average yield.

The worldwide distribution of grapes is coupled with the high genetic plasticity of this crop to enable its adaptation to temperate, sub-tropical and tropical regions. However, this diversity has not been effectively utilized. The countries must have their grape germplasm duly evaluated and share the information and desired stocks. Paradoxically, the genetic base of commercial grape varieties is rather narrow, causing vulnerability to diseases and pests, especially in the tropics and sub-tropics. Being amenable to propagation both through seed and vegetative means, there are wider options for its genetic maneuverings. In vitro propagation of grapes is highly commercialized in some of the countries and can be used for production of transgenics and other genetic transformants. With the above opportunities in mind, countries should give high priority to the development of promising new cultivars suitable for specific end uses and adapted to specific agro-ecological settings.

Grape production in the tropics and sub-tropics is exposed to complex biotic and abiotic stresses. Among diseases, anthracnose, downy mildew and powdery mildew are most serious. Important pests include mealy bugs, thrips and jassids. Both genetic and integrated pest management approaches should be promoted particularly to reduce the excessive use of pesticides. Often pesticide residues are obstructing grape promotion in many countries. Biological agents, such as the use of Australian lady bird beetle to manage mealy bugs, should receive high research and development priorities. In regard to abiotic stresses, drought, problem soils such as salinity, nutrient deficiencies, high temperature and untimely rains are major limiting factors. Selection and use of resistant/tolerant rootstocks will prove most promising.

Although the countries have developed useful production technologies such as pruning pattern and schedule for single or double fruiting, fertilization, water management etc, there is a need for greater understanding and manipulation of bud bursting, fruiting and ripening period and the overall reproduction phases. This will help in alleviating the adverse effects of rains, drought and market gluts and shortages. Physiological, biochemical and nutritional studies should be intensified to understand the intricacies.

Considering the various production regimes and end-uses of grape, it will be necessary to look at the grape industry in a matrix form. Each ‘box’ of the matrix should be analyzed critically and the problems and their solutions should be disentangled to provide greater location specific impact. The consultation is urged to undertake a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat) analysis of the various regimes (boxes). Compilation of such information will be extremely helpful in identifying technologies and modes of their sharing among the partners and in deciding future priorities. The action points thus suggested will also give clear indication to FAO for internalizing the recommendations in its workplans.

Besides technologies, issues relating to policies, trade, marketing, pricing, and processing and product diversification should also be discussed. Development of the grape industry in the region thus calls for interplay of grape growers, industry and research systems in each grape producing country. Further, efficient inter-country cooperation mechanisms should be in place to share information, technologies and products to evolve a vibrant Asian grape industry.

I wish you success in your deliberations and a very pleasant stay in Bangkok.

Thank you.

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