Concerns raised about effects of climate change on litchi production

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Climate change poses a threat to litchi production. This is according to the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) which held the second annual Litchi Cultivar Day in Mbombela, Mpumalanga.

The country has recently experienced unprecedented storms and heat waves. Farmers and researchers from different parts of the country came under one roof to discuss litchi farming issues.

They came up with possible solutions to the challenges facing the sector.

Imported cultivars and other products such as dried snacks, yoghurt, and jelly made from litchis were exhibited during the event. Agro-processing has been identified as an important area, as well as the development of new cultivators that allow products to be available to consumers for longer periods even after the harvest season.

One farmer, Portia Mdhlovu, says events such as this help them acquire new skills to manage their farms.

”The challenge that we mostly face, especially in the Nkomazi area is the heat; it is very hot on that side. So, when you’ve got heat it means that our fruit will have a sun burn and when you have a sun burn in your litchis, it is not going to be appealing and it means you can’t export it.”

The council’s Research Team Manager in Plant Improvement Division, Dr Elliosha Hajari, says regardless of climate change, they will continue to produce the best fruits on the market.

”Agriculture as a whole faces many challenges, within the litchi sector we need to make sure that we are relevant and that we are able to produce litchi fruit that the industry wants, that consumers want.”

The council’s Senior Manager in Research, Dr Yolisa Jezile-Pakela, explaining on the importance of the Cultivar Day, says, ”Cultivar Day is to showcase the outcomes of research, so that farmers can choose the different cultivars for their market. Some farmers would require litchis that are harvested early December, early January, or late January. So, we show them that these are the different cultivars, this is how they taste, this is how they perform, and the shelf life they have.”

Jezile-Pakela says she hopes that more farmers would take advantage of attending events like this to learn new ways of doing things.

Litchi trees were introduced in South Africa in the1870s.

Most of the fruit is currently grown in the sub-tropical parts of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. –Reporting by Nsikelelo Nkuna