Pitaya, longan or lucuma

Adaptation of exotic fruits to Spanish climate and sales potential

Pitaya, longan and lucuma are also Spanish fruits. The longan is somewhat smaller than a ping pong ball. It has a flavor reminiscent of grapes and melons. Its flesh is white and translucent and reveals a black stone. For this reason, it is known as dragon fruit. It is native to Asia, but is also grown in the municipality of Algarrobo, in the Spanish province of Malaga, with a high yield. It is the result of years of research by the La Mayora Subtropical Horticultural Institute, where they also study other species, such as pitaya, lucuma, guanabana, litchi, passion fruit, carambola or guava.

"These are fruits that can be grown in this region and other places in Spain, and the country could certainly take advantage of the demand for them in Europe," says Iñaki Hormaza, head for Subtropical Fruit Production of this institution, dependent on the Higher Center for Scientific Research (CSIC).

Spain is the European leader in the subtropical sector. It is practically the only mango producer in continental Europe. 99% of the production is grown in Malaga and Granada, in some 4,000 hectares with a subtropical Mediterranean climate. The same applies to cherimoya, with 3,000 hectares in this strip of the Andalusian coast.

The area is also the leading European producer of avocados, with about 10,000 hectares, although there are also farms in places like the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands, Valencia and Galicia, as well as in Sicily or the Portuguese Algarve, where there are a thousand hectares. The largest medlar producer is Callosa de Sarriá, in the province of Alicante, but the fruit is also grown in Andalusia.

These are the four tropical fruits that are produced on a large scale in the country, but experts at La Mayora are convinced that Spain could make better use of its climate resources to offer a greater range of fruits that, although little known, have good qualities and are increasingly more demanded. "Their quality is very high because they reach the market in hours, without chemical products and scarcely leaving a carbon footprint in their transport," highlights Hormaza. "We have nothing but advantages," he says.

The research team is also working to learn more about the genes responsible for the fruit's quality or for the size of the production. They also study the solitary bees responsible for pollination, and are looking for natural enemies against the first pests that have affected the plantations. The CSIC has put all this knowledge at the service of producers and importing and exporting companies, showing them their achievements. "They are innovative products with real chances to succeed," says Enrique Moriones, director of the Malaga center, who sees the current reluctance to innovations in fruit cultivation as similar to that in the sixties when it came to planting mangoes or avocados, unknown in Spain at that time.

Although there are exceptions, with growers daring to manage some small productions, the big firms are still not interested in expanding their range of subtropical crops. "The problem is that there is still no market, and you cannot produce without it," explains José Linares, president of the Spanish Association of Tropical Producers. He is familiar with the work carried out in La Mayora and highlights the adaptation of the carambola, passion fruit or lucuma, which have a growing niche in Europe. Also noteworthy is the case of papayas, which like the guanabana, needs to be grown in greenhouses, or of pitaya, which grows in a cactus whose greenhouse production is starting to become significant in Almeria. "There are many varieties that Spain could produce, the hard part is to find a market for them," adds Linares.

Cristóbal Hevilla stresses that "if all these fruits were grown here, their quality and flavor would always be better than that of those that need a month to reach Europe from other parts of the world."

Source: El País

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