The lychee (Litchi chinensis Sonn) an important sub-tropical evergreen fruit crop belonging to family Sapindaceae, is believed to have originated in China, where it has been grown in Southern Guangdong state for thousand of years. It is highly specific to climatic requirements and probably due to this reason its cultivation is restricted to few countries in the world.
In India, lychee was introduced in the 18th century through Burma, and from there, it spread to many countries. India and China account for 91 percent of the world lychee production but it is mainly marketed locally. In India, 428,900 metric tonnes of lychee is produced annually from 56,200 hectares. Lychee being exacting in climatic requirement is confined to a few states with 74 percent of production recorded in Bihar. In this state, lychee is the livelihood for millions of people as it provides both on-farm and off-farm employment. Small and marginal farmers get additional income from lychee plants in their homesteads. Thus, lychee cultivation is the livelihood security for a large population, especially in the state of Bihar.
The lychee tree is handsome, dense, round-topped and slow growing with evergreen leaves having 6-9 elliptic oblong and lanceolate abruptly pointed leaves. Colour of leaves varies from light green to dark green. Greenish white or yellowish flowers are borne in clusters. Fruits are round or heart shaped having thin, leathery skin.
The colour of fruits varies with cultivar, and is red or rose or pinkish. The edible portion or fruit is the aril, which is immediately beneath the skin. Flavour of the aril varies with cultivar, which is distinctive. Seeds are bold but in some cultivars seeds are partially developed, due to failure of pollination, referred to as chicken-tongue seed. The trees with small seeded fruits are prized because of the greater portion of pulp.
Considering the importance of this fruit crop in the region, efforts are made to provide technological support through research and promoting production, post-harvest management and marketing, including export, through development programmes. Lychee has also been identified as an important crop for export. Currently, Indian export of lychee remains quite small due to expanded domestic market. The product for export and distant domestic markets is typically packed in 2 kg cartons after pre-cooling and sulphuring. Domestic marketing generally receives lychee in 10 kg wooden cages or 15 to 18 kg baskets.
The growing of lychee in different states under various climatic conditions has advantages in terms of earliness and extended harvest. With a narrow genetic base, under given climatic conditions, fruits are available only for 3-4 weeks. However, due to the spread of cultivation over a wide range of climate there is possibility for extending the cropping period from the first week of May to the first week of July. Evidently, with an expanding market, there is ample potential for increasing area and production with improved production technology and efficient post-harvest management and storage. This paper deals with the current status and identifies the constraints which are required to be addressed.