* Senior Plant Production and Protection Officer, FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand.Welcome to the FAO Regional Office and to this Expert Consultation. You may wish to know that this Consultation has been organized and sponsored by the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. I am grateful to all of you for coming here to contribute to this Meeting.
Avocado is highly regarded today as an important fruit for food and nutrition. Remarkable development of this fruit has been recorded in every continent, with the exception of Asia. Unfortunately, this fruit has not yet been popularized in Asia, most likely due to unawareness of its merits/qualities. However, Popenoe (1935) considered the avocado as 'Gods greatest gift to humanity'. Now, more than two generations later, Asians need to listen freshly to the wisdom of this truth. Much real starvation and malnutrition in a number of Asian countries, such as Bangladesh, India and Nepal, could be averted by growing avocados, whose product has a relatively high food and nutrition value.
Avocados are rich in important human nutrients. There has been recently increasing recognition of our need for antioxidants for good health, and the avocado is rich in three of the most important ones, i.e. vitamins E, C and A (beta-carotene). It may help to prevent strokes; it is high in potassium and low in sodium. Among fruits, it is noted for the quantity and quality of its protein. It provides exceptional quantities of both types of dietary fibre. It makes a superior weaning food for babies. The avocado fat consists predominantly of monounsaturated oleic acid, which has been found to reduce harmful LDL-cholesterol while maintaining beneficial HDL-cholesterol, performing better than the usual low-fat diet. In addition, the avocado has various uses as a natural cosmetic, with advantages in rapid skin penetration, and as a superior natural sunscreen.
The population of the region is over 3 billion at present and it is expected to be over 5 billion by the year 2025. This additional 2 billion people must be fed. Who will feed them? And what will they be fed? Moreover, malnutrition is already a serious problem, and it is attributed to an imbalanced diet. The opportunity to build up demand for nutritious foodstuffs seems to beckon. There is an opportunity and potential here for the development of a regional avocado industry, along with its nutritious products. Apart from the local markets, there are opportunities for the export markets of the region. Japan, Korea and Hong Kong are already importing avocados from countries of other continents (Mexico, USA, etc.). Some other countries in the region are also importing avocados, but in small quantities. Imported avocados in Bangkok are selling for US$2.00 per fruit. In addition, Western European markets still have considerable growth potential. The opinion of many people is that the demand for avocado will continue to grow throughout world markets.
The opportunities for the development of a viable avocado industry appear to be very good. However, at the same time, the problems to be addressed are serious. With the exception of Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, no other countries in the region have improved varieties available for the farmers. There is, therefore, a need for each country to embark on a strong varietal improvement programme. The problem of propagation/multiplication needs also to be addressed. In addition, farmers need to become familiar with the improved cultural practices to be followed. Post-harvest handling, processing and marketing issues also need to be given due attention. Then the region should be in a position to produce best-quality fruit at low cost.
Inter-country cooperation could be very helpful in achieving the common goal. Strengthening cooperation among countries, institutions and individual scientists in production development is very important. A forum like this allows us to learn from each other. We must explore the possibilities of sharing our experiences for mutual benefit. It is in this context that this Consultation has been convened. Briefly, its objectives are the following:
a) To review the status of avocado production in Asia and the Pacific, and discuss the problems faced as well as strategies required to overcome existing problems.Distinguished participants, our Meeting will end in three days. As we will leave it behind us, we should take with us the power to shape the things to come regarding the avocado industry. You possess some power to affect the regions food supply in a significant way. All of you attending this Meeting have some power to consolidate and lead a regional avocado industry. Please pledge yourselves to use that power wisely. The destiny of a regional avocado industry may well be in your hands.
b) Elaborate on the potential and opportunities for avocado production development.
c) Discuss ways and means of strengthening collaboration on avocado research and development.
I wish you all productive discussions and good contacts among one another for the exchange of information, experience and expertise.