58. Avocado is a fruit crop that is indigenous to Central America where it is a staple food of the native people. Production of this crop has spread to every continent where climatic conditions are suited to its requirements. However, the development of the avocado as a commercial crop in Asia and the Pacific island nations is in its infancy as compared to other tropical and sub-tropical fruit crops of the region. The genetic diversity of the avocado, due to the three eco-races (Mexican, Guatamalan and West Indian) enable the successful production of this crop over a wide range of environments, from cool, summer-dry Mediterranean to sub-tropical and humid tropical. However, the avocado is little known throughout Asia and the Pacific island nations, although there are some exceptions which include Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and the Philippines where the fruit is consumed by the people in both rural and urban areas. The developing tourist industry throughout the region was also identified as a market opportunity. Hence, the consultation recommends that through a program of research, development and education (which should include the appropriate health authorities), efforts be made to develop avocado as a significant fruit crop for Asia and the Pacific island nations with emphasis on its potential contribution to improve human health.
59. A major constraint identified by the consultation to develop avocado as a fruit crop for Asia and the Pacific island nations was the lack of availability of suitable varieties/rootstocks in the participating countries. Existing production in most countries is based on an extremely diverse seedling tree population that results in a wide range of fruit quality available to the consumers. Poor fruit types and inconsistency in quality are likely factors contributing to low prices paid for the fruit in many of the participating countries. The consultation identified the need to obtain germplasm of superior varieties for those countries that do not possess this material so they can be evaluated under local conditions. The rich diversity of seedling populations in some countries should be examined to identify superior types that may provide opportunities for future commercialization. An avocado contest as described by Dr. Chalongchai Babpraserth for the Royal Thai Project and Dr. Nguyen Minh Chau for Vietnam is a useful way of economically searching a seedling population. The process can be more effective if simple guidelines based on selection criteria on how fruit will be judged can be disseminated to the local farmers. It was generally agreed that each country maintains its own germplasm and varietal collection blocks, as requirements and priorities may differ throughout the region.
60. In several Asian countries, the most suitable climatic zones for avocado production are at high elevations in the mountainous areas which are prone to erosion and environmental degradation. The cultivation of perennial fruit crops such as avocado will promote sustainable land-use as well as provide a highly nutritious food and generate a regular income. Traditionally, hill-tribe farmers in mountainous areas of Asia practice organic farming and the avocado responds well to this type of culture. Companion cropping with coffee and banana is already practiced in some countries, and this production system can be effective in limiting pests and diseases, thereby enhancing production efficiency. Fruit produced through eco-friendly practices with minimal agro-chemical usage would improve the local environment and produce an eco-friendly product that should receive consumer preference in selected markets.
61. Diverse agro-climatic zones in the region offer the scope for exploitation of off-season production opportunities. This can be extended by widening the varietal base to include early, mid-season and late season maturing cultivars. However, care must be taken in selecting cultivars for specific locations, as there are varying sensitivities of cultivars to temperature ranges during flowering and fruit-set. The successful implementation of this technology could see year-round production of this crop and promote trade opportunities among countries in the region. The fruit is traded at present in global markets and has potential to generate export earnings if suitable cultivars are identified and grown.
62. Propagation techniques were mostly well understood by members of the participating countries. It was, however, reported that in some countries there were problems concerning the ready availability of reputable nurseries able to supply grafted trees for commercial development of avocado. The development of skills in nursery practices, propagation methods and nursery hygiene were identified as high priorities to assist in the development of the avocado as a crop for Asia and the Pacific, e.g. grafting and rapid multiplication techniques, and solarization of potting media.
63. The consultation identified Phytophthora root rot, caused by Phytophthora cinnamomi, as a major disease of avocado in the region with the potential to limit production of this crop. This disease is a significant threat to all avocado production in countries worldwide that grow this crop. Effective control measures are available but were not widely known by country participants. Information on the practical aspects of controlling this disease should be made available to countries that require this technology. The consultation also identified the presence of fruit diseases such as anthracnose (Colletotrichum gloeosporioides), stem-end rot (Dothiorella sp.) and cercospora spot (Pseudocercospora purpurea) in participating countries. The consultation recommended the selection and development of improved cultivars and rootstocks and other management practices which will be beneficial in reducing the incidence of these diseases.
64. Participants also identified a wide range of insect pests that were prevalent in participating countries. Economically important pests, that are difficult to control, are the stem and fruit borers reported from Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand. It was recommended that each country conducts its own research to address such pest control problems.
65. Most participants identified significant post-harvest fruit losses when handling avocado in their respective countries. This is likely due to a number of factors that include poor production technology, lack of storage facilities, and unsatisfactory handling and packaging systems. The consultation recommended the use of improved varieties and production technologies along with appropriate training on post-harvest handling techniques covering on-farm handling and storage, post-harvest treatments and conditioned storage which should assist in reducing post-harvest losses.
66. It is recognized that the avocado is one of the most nutritious fruits cultivated. The fruit is high in anti-oxidants such as vitamins E, C, A (beta carotene). The fruit is also high in potassium and low in sodium and contains both types of dietary fiber as well as being a good source of protein. The fruit has a high nutrient density per calorie and the fat is predominantly mono-unsaturated oleic acid that has been found to reduce harmful low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) while maintaining beneficial high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL), thereby reducing the risk of atherosclerotic heart disease. The flesh is highly palatable and easily digestible making it an ideal weaning food for infants. It was, therefore, recommended that avocado production be promoted in the region to improve the nutritional status of the people.
67. A general lack of awareness of the uses and benefits of avocado was identified by all participating countries, with the exception of Australia. Processing opportunities and oil extraction (for the cosmetic industry) were discussed and seen as future opportunities for the avocado in Asia. However, to support these activities there would be a need to expand present production of this crop, along with fruit production from cultivars suitable for these purposes. No development in this area was therefore recommended for the immediate future as considerable investment for research and development of processing technologies is required.
68. The consultation identified the need to improve skills and knowledge of research and extension officers in most of the participating countries along with the orchard management skills of avocado growers. This could be achieved by professional development of scientific and extension personnel, establishment of demonstration blocks, on-farm training, seminars, field days, study visits with people from countries interested in fostering this crop in Asia and the Pacific island nations, and by sharing information through publications.
69. It was realized from the discussions that there were different levels of development and government support for avocado production among the participating countries. However, there are many constraints hindering the development of the avocado as a commercial crop for the region. Most problems appeared to be common to all countries. The consultation, therefore, recommended that assistance be sought for the formulation, funding and implementation of a Regional Project to develop avocado as an alternative food crop for the Asia-Pacific Region (with the exception of Australia and New Zealand).
70. It was revealed that there was a low base level of technology for avocado production throughout many of the participating countries and there was a need to access reliable information to successfully advance the culture of the crop. It was felt that a Regional Network would facilitate the pooling of information and expedite the development of the crop. The consultation endorsed this approach for Regional Cooperation and recommended the establishment of such a Network. It is expected that if a Regional Project on avocado production and development is implemented, it will eventually lead to the establishment of a Regional Network to disseminate information on avocado research and development throughout the participating countries.