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Ram B. Singh [2]

It is a great pleasure and privilege for me to welcome you to the Expert Consultation on Lychee Production in the Asia-Pacific Region. 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 lychee in the Asia-Pacific region. Considering the importance of this crop for many countries in Asia and the Pacific 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.

The cultivated lychee originated in the region between southern China, northern Viet Nam and Malaysia. Wild trees can still be seen growing in elevated and lowland rainforest, especially in Guangdong and Hainan Island where lychee is one of the main species. Lychee has a long history in Southeast Asia with unofficial Chinese records going back to about 2000 BC. From about 1600 AD, the species was distributed to much of the tropical and sub-tropical world, but it is currently not widely grown because it does not flower and crop successfully over a wide range of climates.

The lychee is one of the most environmentally sensitive of the fruit tree crops. It is adapted to the tropics and warm subtropics between 13° to 32°N and 6° to 29°S. It crops best in regions with winters that are short dry and cool (daily maximums below 20° to 22°C) but frost free, and summers that are long and hot (daily maximums above 25°C) with high rainfall (1200 mm) and high humidity. Good protection from wind is essential for cropping.

Lychees are cultivated for their very popular fruit and have a long history of acceptance in China and many parts of Southeast Asia. The demand is for large bright red fruit with small seeds and crisp, sweet flesh. China, Taiwan Province of China and Thailand have substantial canning industries. A large proportion of the crop in China was traditionally dried as "dried lychee nuts", and this is the form that many people are familiar with. However, the present destination of the crop is 60 percent fresh, 20 percent canned and 20 percent dried. Fruit can also be processed into pickles, preserves, ice-cream, yoghurt, juice and wine.

The food value of lychee lies in its sugar content that ranges from 7 to 21 percent, depending on climate and variety. Fruits also contain about 0.7 percent protein, 0.3 percent fat, 0.7 percent minerals (particularly Ca and P) and are reasonable sources of vitamins C (64 mg/100 g pulp), A, B1 and B2.

There are approximately 1,700,000 tonnes of lychee produced in Asia. Total production in the Southern Hemisphere (mainly Africa, Madagascar and Australia) is around 50,000 tonnes. There are also small industries in the USA and south America. This is the reverse situation to the avocado, indigenous to central America, which is popular in northern, central and southern America, and much of Africa.

The largest producers in Asia are China (1,000,000 tonnes), India (430,000 tonnes) Taiwan Province of China (110,000 tonnes), Thailand (85,000 tonnes) and Viet Nam (40,000 tonnes). Further expansion is occurring in these as well as other countries to meet demand generated by the increasing regional affluence. In some of the traditional growing countries of Asia, production is easily outstripped by local demand, although expansion is limited by available horticultural land.

In Southeast Asia, there are about 50,000 tonnes of lychee traded as fresh fruit during the season. Thailand is a major exporter, although longans are more important. Trade is important and expanding in China, Taiwan Province of China and Vietnam. Fresh fruit dominates trade, although there are also exports of dried and canned fruit. In contrast, about 15,000 tonnes are exported to Europe from Madagascar and South Africa.

The crop can be difficult to grow and yield consistently. The major production problems are irregular flowering and poor fruit retention, while alternate bearing and small fruit size can also reduce grower returns. Trees take three to five years to come into production, and will not produce substantial crops until year seven or eight. They require regular chemical control measures for pests and suffer heavy losses to birds and fruit bats in some areas if not netted. The fruits only ripen on the tree and have a very short shelf-life without refrigeration.

Commercial production requires an experienced horticultural manager able to deal with appropriate crop management practices such as irrigation, tree nutrition, considerable pest load etc. There is also a need to have an efficient packing and cool room or other facility to export fruit as the crop deteriorates very quickly after harvest.

The crop has undergone intensive selection in China and there are about 26 cultivars grown commercially. However, four cultivars account for most of the production in Guangdong and Fujian (Fay Zee Siu, Souey Tung, Haak Yip and Wai Chee). Production in other countries is also generally based on Chinese cultivars e.g.Tai So (Hong Huey) and Wai Chee (Kim Cheng) in Thailand; and Tai So, Kwai May (Pink) and Wai Chee in Australia. The only major exceptions are India and the warmer lychee areas of Thailand, where local selections of Chinese imports predominate. During the last 50 years, a few improved cultivars have been bred or selected for commercial release (Sah Keng in Taiwan Province of China, Chacapat in Thailand and Salathiel in Australia). There are limited breeding programmes in Southeast Asia.

Although lychee has a long history in southern China, it is a relatively new crop in most other countries. The amount of research on production is rather small compared with the more established fruit crops such as citrus, banana, pineapple, mango and others. There has been much speculation regarding the response of the tree to environmental conditions and the implications for productivity.

It was not until the mid- to late-1960s that the first information was collected indicating the effects of climate on flower initiation, pollination and fruit set. During the 1980s and 1990s, there was renewed interest in the crop, especially the effects of temperature and water supply on flower initiation. There was also some effort to develop guidelines for plant protection, watering, fertilizing and canopy management. Various attempts were also made to improve storage and marketing. However, in spite of these efforts much more remains to be done as there is room for more production in the region, but only of the best varieties that can be grown. In this regard, stronger varietal improvement programmes are needed to identify/develop superior varieties for each agro-ecological zone of each country. At the same time, efforts to expand the harvesting season will be of paramount importance.

Development of the lychee industry in the region will require concerted efforts on the part of the governments and the growers. Collaboration between countries is important and rewarding. In view of the commonality of problems and issues, sharing of information and experience on various aspects of lychee production could lead to quicker and less expensive redressals.

Distinguished participants, we in FAO look forward to your advice and guidance concerning an appropriate strategy for the development of the lychee industry in the region. I can assure you of our full support to your efforts.

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

[2] Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Maliwan Mansion, Phra Atit Road, Bangkok 10200, Thailand

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