Along the banks of the Upper Yangtze River in Yunnan Province, halfway between Dali and Lijiang, there is a place that does not quite fit in with the surrounding landscape. At first, the crystal-clear, teal-colored river, lined by pristine pomegranate, mango, and grape orchards against a striking mountain backdrop might catch your eye. And yet, another unique feature of this place might remain unseen. But if one looks closely, one might spot peculiar new fruits growing on trees nestled in the foothills. In fact, the very farmers responsible for growing these new fruits have largely never purchased or even tasted their products. For, you see, it is here you can find China’s first high-tech avocado plantation and agricultural sustainability project.

I first began this venture to introduce new fruit varieties into China after obtaining my PhD from CAS’s very own Kunming Institute of Botany. My diverse background working on agricultural projects across multiple countries (including in small enterprises as well as major global seed companies) — coupled with a doctoral specialization in ecosystem services, honey bees, and sustainable crop pollination — has served as a strong foundation for this project. A publication I authored in 2016 entitled “Is China’s unparalleled and understudied bee diversity at risk?” (Biological Conservation) was the first to highlight the extremely diverse status of Chinese pollinator species and the irreplaceable benefits they deliver to ecosystems. It was also the first of its kind to point out the considerable threats facing pollinators in China.

During the course of my research, I noticed that there were many global fruit varieties underrepresented in China — many of which are pollinator-dependent. With that in mind, I began looking at the factors driving new fruit introductions into China, and compiled a lengthy list of fruits, vegetables, and pulse crops that were underdeveloped relative to other countries in the world. One of the crops of keenest interest was avocados. I found that Chinese growers produce less than 10% of the avocados they consume (most are imported from Central and South America). Upon completion of my PhD, I set my mind to developing a plan to import, grow, and sell across China select crop species — such as high-quality avocado trees — with the potential to thrive in the hot river valley areas of Lijiang. Bringing new avocado varieties and accompanying technology has the potential to help China become self-sufficient in this global commodity market.

Now, three years after launching the venture, I’ve officially founded the Yunnan Avocado Co., drawing upon the many lessons learned during my PhD program. We have now also established a demonstration orchard for trialing purposes and a brand-new world-class tree nursery. Our enthusiastic team is realizing the dream of introducing new and highly-productive avocado varieties to China, ensuring the banks of the Upper Yangtze River will never be quite the same again.

By Dr. Jonathan Teichroew

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