October to December 2006


Tropical and Sub-Tropical Fruits: Globalization, Trend, and Networking for Research and Development in Asia


Tropical fruitsTHERE ARE ABOUT 3,000 TROPICAL and subtropical fruits species worldwide, close to 500 of which are found in Asia.  Southeast Asia has about 120 major and 275 minor species of tropical and subtropical fruits and nuts, although nearly 200 species remain undeveloped and underutilized.

World production of tropical fruits was estimated at 138.6 million tons in 2004, about 2.7% higher than the 2003 level. The five major tropical fruits produced were banana, mango, pineapple, papaya, and avocado. Minor fruits such as lychee, durian, rambutan, guava, and passion fruits are produced in smaller volumes.

India is the major producer of papaya (31%), followed by Brazil (19%). Avocado mostly comes from Mexico (32%), Indonesia (8%), and the US (6%).

Asian contribution

Asia accounts for more than half (53%) of total world banana production.  The leading banana producer is India contributing 24% of the world’s total output of 70.89 million tons in 2004.  Brazil and Ecuador ranked 2nd and 3rd contributing 9.3% and 8.5% respectively.  China, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand ranked 4th, 5th, 6th, and 9th respectively.

Mango, like banana, is predominantly produced in India (45% of the 24.34 million-ton world production in 2004).  Other key producers are Thailand and Mexico, each supplying 7% in 2004.  Pakistan, Indonesia, and the Philippines ranked 4th, 5th, and 6th, respectively. Asia’s contribution reached 74% of world mango production.        

World production of pineapple was 15.48 million tons in 2004 climbing 2.8 over the previous year’s output.  Nearly half of the total produce came from Asia, notably China, the Philippines, and Thailand.  Significant producers are China (8.5%) and India (7.8%).

Consumption and trade

In general, tropical fruits produced worldwide are for domestic consumption except for mango, banana, pineapple, papaya, and avocado that are traded globally.  These fruits are produced in wide commercial scale and commercialization to a large extent affect the development of other fruit varieties.

Banana is the most internationally traded tropical fruit with about one-fourth of 70.89 million tons produced in 2004 sold overseas.  Export of other tropical fruits is less than 10% of total production except for avocado with 12%.

Banana comprised 85% of all tropical fruit exports mainly from top three export leaders Ecuador, Costa Rica, and the Philippines.  Export volume surged from less than 1% in 2002 to nearly 8% in 2004.  Major markets for banana are the United States (26% of world total in 2004), Germany, and Japan.

The bulk of mango exports came from Mexico, India, and Brazil.  Volume of export went up in 2004 by a modest 5% following an huge 41% increase in 2003.  Mexico shipped out 190,000 tons, followed by Brazil with 140,000. The major importers of mangoes were the US (35%) and EU (20%).

Papaya exports grew 47% in 2004 compared to the previous year.  The largest papaya exporter was Mexico (75,000) followed by Malaysia (70,000 tons) and Brazil (40,000 tons).  The US accounted for 50% of the world’s total papaya import.

Overall, import demand for tropical fruits in the next decade is expected to increase, thus import volume is also projected to expand.  The Food and Agriculture Organization’s projections to 2014 indicate an annual rise in export volume of 1.4% for mango, 1.7% for pineapple, 2% for avocado, and 5.6% for papaya.  Japan, EU, and the US remain as the largest destination for tropical fruits.

Tropical fruit supply chain status in Asia

Tropical fruit production is generally seasonal.  Fruit trees are typically grown in small farms in Asia, although high value fruits like banana and mango are commercially grown especially if intended for export. Transnational companies generally control banana production and trade.

Tropical fruits are highly perishable and require efficient harvesting, packing, and transportation systems.  Tropical fruits for export are shipped in refrigerated vessels to prevent ripening in transit. They are ripened in special facilities upon reaching destination.

Post-harvest losses are typically a major problem in Asia. These result from unfavorable climate, cultural practices, inappropriate methods of harvesting and packing, poor storage conditions, and inadequate handling during transport.

Transportation is a serious problem. Vehicles used to transport bulk raw fruits are often not equipped with refrigeration system. High temperatures during transport cause fruits to bruise and deteriorate prematurely.

Tropical fruits have short shelf life.  Losses in storage may be caused by physiological deterioration of fruits during storage or by insects, bacteria, yeasts, viruses, rodents, and other animals.

Post-harvest losses in tropical fruits vary widely from 10 percent to 80 percent in both developed and developing countries.  Losses occur along the supply chain, from harvesting to packing, storage, transporting, retailing, and consumption. 

In the Philippines, post-harvest losses range from 15 percent to 35 percent.  Papaya for example could suffer losses of 30—60 percent.  Japan, Republic of Korea, and Taiwan have reported losses of about 10 percent (FAO Comtrade).

Trade policies affecting Asia’s tropical fruit industry

Strict trade regulations are among major reasons for relatively low exports of tropical fruits (except banana) by Asian countries.

Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures are probably the most significant policy concerns in international trade of tropical fruits.  Major importing countries like Japan, the European Union, and the United States imposed strict SPS standards and quality systems on exporting countries.

For instance, they now require maximum residue limits for pesticides (particularly methyl bromide) in fruits.  The use of pest risk analysis in tropical fruits has also become increasingly important for countries eyeing access to international markets, particularly the EU.

EU, the biggest importer and second largest exporter of foodstuff is a major supporter of World Trade Organization.  Exporters to EU who want to establish certification standards and procedures for GAP must comply with production standards determined by EurepGAP, a partnership among EU’s agricultural producers and retailers.

However, for many Asian exporting countries, creating a new set of rules and quality standards could be costly and problematic.  For one, many safety standards should be built on sound scientific procedures.  But in most Asian countries where research and development is underprovided, this is difficult to put in place unless fully supported by policy makers.

There have been complaints lately against the stringent EurepGAP standards by developing countries like Indonesia, Egypt, and South Africa at the WTO.

Another basic issue is that SPS agreements tend to curtail the implementation and use of existing innovative procedures that are ahead of international standards.

Knowledge Network Related to Tropical Fruits Industry

Strategic alliances with existing international knowledge network are important means for meeting the interests of different groups in the industry. Two relevant organizations that could address industry needs are the International Tropical Fruits Network (TFNet), and the International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS).

TFNet, an independent and self-sustaining global network serves as repository of information on production, processing, marketing, consumption, and international trade of tropical fruits. Its three member-countries are China, Malaysia, and Fiji. Other members are industry associations and individuals. TFNet provides assistance to fruit growers in obtaining EurepGAP certification by collaborating with Syngenta.

ISHS has a vast network of individual, institutional, and country members. It promotes research in all branches of horticulture and encourages the development of international cooperation, bringing together scientific and technical professionals to stimulate, facilitate, and coordinate research and scientific activities on a global scale.

Tropical and Sub-Tropical Fruits

TFNet and ISHS provide mechanisms for the exchange of information on the current state of the industry, research, and technology transfer. They create venues for the exchange of views and information; establish and reaffirm professional contacts; and foster research and commercial strategies for the growth of the fruits industry.

Policy directions

Globalization of trade is being implemented through international commercial agreements that no longer focus on traditional trade issues such as reducing tariff and quotas, but on a comprehensive set of policies to which signatory countries are required to conform.

The constraints set by these policies focus on food safety, farm worker and consumer health and safety, and environmental protection. The need for coordinated and accelerated R&D efforts in fruit quality and safety, and harmonized treatments of fruits for exports should therefore be considered.

 Specific R&D concerns that may be pursued are the following:

Bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) are a global trend.  But FTAs are very much about market access and trade liberalization. There are no built-in provisions for cooperative undertaking in technology upgrading, institution building, trade facilitation, and industry competitiveness.

The need for strategic alliance among ASEAN, East Asian countries and knowledge organizations in horticulture can be pursued through the creation of Asian Tropical and Sub-Tropical Fruits Community (ATTFC). The ATTFC is proposed to be an inter-governmental union of ASEAN and East Asian countries to serve as a regional bloc that would provide the means to attain collective efficiency and productivity in tropical fruits production.

Foremost of the ATTFC concerns are to promote R&D on fruit quality and safety and in improving the supply chain; harmonize the protocols related to technical aspects of production and trade; technology transfer; support to SMEs; capacity building, and development of infrastructure (storage facilities and collection centers).

Collaboration with existing knowledge networks like TFNet and ISHS must be established for information sharing and capacity building. A common policy governing ATTFC is proposed to be formulated preferably by the ASEAN secretariat.  STP