* Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand.It is a great pleasure and privilege for me to welcome you to the Expert Consultation on Avocado Production Development 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.
I am happy to see the positive response which we have received from scientists working on avocados in the Asia-Pacific Region. Considering the important role which this crop can play in food and nutrition security of the Asia-Pacific countries and the need for inter-country cooperation on problems of common interest, we have decided to hold this Expert Consultation in order to elaborate on issues relating to the development of this crop in the region. While appreciating your response to our invitation, I hope this meeting will prove to be productive and beneficial for all the participating countries.
Avocados have been known for many years, dating back at least to 1519 when Hernando Cortez, Spanish soldier of fortune, was the first white man to set foot in Mexico City. However, the first written account of the avocado, so far as is known, is contained in the report of Gonzalo Hernandez de Oviedo (1526), who saw the tree in Colombia, near the Isthmus of Panama.
Mexico, Central America and northern South America are considered to be the centres of origin of avocados. Archaeological and other evidence indicates that avocados were cultivated there in very early times, possibly some 6000 years ago. They were there as nature presented them, a heterogeneous mixture of seedling trees. They were not commercially exploited until the first years of the present century, when their potential for commercialization was developed by Californians. It was in this state that avocado growing became a recognizable industry. The crop has a wide adaptability, and avocados are now grown in most tropical and subtropical countries. Yields up to 35 tonnes/hectare have been obtained in South Africa from high-density planting of avocados.
It is worth mentioning something more about the avocados in California. The California avocado industry goes back to Puebla, a city 128 km from the Mexican capital. Carl Schmidt, from California, visited Mexico City, Puebla and Atlixco in 1911 to search the Mexican market place for avocados of outstanding quality and to locate the trees from which they came. He collected budwood from the best trees and shipped it to Atladena, California. Many selections were not well-adapted to California conditions, but one which Schmidt had selected from a tree in the garden of Alejandro Le Blanc flourished. Its strength was officially recognized when it survived the great freeze of 1913 and it was named 'Fuerte' - Spanish for vigorous and strong. The 'Fuerte' tree that Schmidt found in Atlixco became the mother tree for Californias avocado industry.
Avocado is one of the finest salad fruits. It is a good source of vitamins (A, B, C, E, folacin, niacin etc.) and minerals (iron, magnesium, potassium etc.). Purseglove (1968) considered the avocado as the most nutritious of all fruits. Many horticulturists are accustomed to view the avocado as one of the greatest undeveloped sources of nutritious food which the tropics offer at present. However, while many people view the avocado as a possibility, to many others it is a realized possibility. 'Four or five tortillas (corn cakes), an avocado, and a cup of coffee, - this is a good meal', say the Indians of Guatemala.
There are many reasons to believe that eventually the avocado will be as familiar to Asian housewives as the banana is today. However, at present, the avocado is not popular in the Asia-Pacific region. The great majority of the population do not appreciate this fruit. This is because very few people in the region are aware of the merits of this unique fruit.
It is high time for the countries of the region to start giving consideration to commercial avocado culture. The avocado has to be regarded as a fruit of great commercial possibilities. Some scattered plantations in certain countries of Asia have demonstrated excellent growth and heavy bearing of the trees. There is room for much more production in the region, but only of the best varieties that can be grown. At the same time the people in the region must become aware of the avocado and its merits, and there is, therefore, a need to encourage, develop and implement an awareness programme about avocado.
Development of the avocado industry in the region will require a concerted effort on the part of the governments and the growers. Collaboration between countries of the region is important and rewarding. In view of the commonality of problems and issues, sharing of information and experience on various aspects of avocado production could lead to quicker and more remunerative results.
Distinguished participants, we in FAO look forward to your advice and guidance concerning an appropriate strategy for the development of the avocado industry in the region. I can assure you of our full support to your efforts.
I wish you success in your present endeavour and a very pleasant stay in Bangkok.