Oranges and lemons on the agenda at international meeting

The world produces more citrus than any other kind of fruit - an average of 81 million tonnes a year in recent years. Global annual earnings from exports of citrus, a major cash crop for many developing countries, amount to an average of US$8 billion.

Selling oranges by the roadside in Bangladesh (FAO photo 16095)

"Citrus is not only important economically in terms of foreign earnings and employment creation, but it also contributes significantly to the nutritional requirements of many lower income countries" said FAO's Paola Fortucci in her opening statement to the 12th Session of the Intergovernmental Group (IGG) on Citrus Fruit.

Representatives of all the major citrus-producing countries met at the IGG in Valencia, Spain, 22 to 25 September 1998 to review the market situation and discuss ways to keep citrus consumption on the up. The producers of more than three-quarters of world citrus exports were represented, including top producers, Brazil, China and the United States and 15 other countries and the European Community.

One of the Group's main functions is to evaluate the longer term market outlook. In this context, concern was expressed that rising production of citrus fruits might not be matched by rising demand, leading to falling prices. It was also stated that consumption of citrus juices based on concentrate in the EC and other developed markets, might have reached saturation levels.

Key items on this session's agenda included market prospects for citrus fruits in countries in transition, for mandarins in the United States and the potential for a move towards organic fruits and juices. In Eastern Europe and the Russian Federation falling incomes have hit citrus imports hard. The Group discussed the possibility that further cuts in imports could hit fresh citrus prices and agreed that the situation should be closely monitored.

A special paper was presented on the nutritional benefits of citrus and how governments could use them to promote consumption. Citrus fruit was first used to cure scurvy back in the 17th century. Now new information is emerging every day on its potential for prevention in areas including obesity, asthma, osteoporosis, and cognitive disorders.

"Although most people known that citrus is good for them, " Bill Clay, Chief of FAO's Nutrition Programmes Service, said in the paper, "... there is often a lack of understanding that citrus is important for them".

Clay said that, over the last 20 years, health-conscious consumers were buying more citrus, whether fresh or processed. He stressed the importance of a mutually beneficial partnership between the citrus industry and the public health and nutrition community in a concerted effort to boost public awareness of the value of citrus and thus keep demand growing.

"Selling the notion that citrus is good for health, is not a hard sell", Clay said.

20 October 1998

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