David Adamia first travelled to Tongnan District in southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality in November, to look for new lemons for his company.

After taking tours of several lemons growing bases in Tongnan, the sales director of Russia Green Planet Co., Ltd. signed a 600-million-yuan (85.2 million U.S. dollar) purchase order with a local company on Nov. 14.

Shortly after that, fresh lemons were loaded on a China-Europe freight train in Chongqing and appeared in Russian markets after an eight day trip.

Adamia said the high quality and reasonable price of Tongnan lemons attracted him.

Located at 30 degrees north latitude with an average annual temperature of 17.9 Celsius degree, Tongnan and its surrounding area is one of the world’s top lemon producing areas, along with California, Sicily and other regions.

The lemons of Tongnan, however, have not been known in the international market, as its landlocked location means costly and lengthy logistics.

“Cargo from Tongnan used to take at least 40 days to reach Moscow, but fresh lemons only have a shelf life of up to a month,” said Adamia.

Thanks to the China-Europe freight trains launched under the Belt & Road Initiative, Tongnan lemons can now reach Russia in eight days, and Western Europe in 13 days.

Tongnan lemons are well received by Russian consumers for its high quality and affordable price, Adamia said. At Russia’s Food City, one of Europe’s largest farm producer wholesale markets, 85 per cent of the lemons are from Tongnan.

Tongnan lemons are also sold to Southeast Asian countries including Singapore and Indonesia.

Zhong Shuixing, the legal representative of Indonesia’s Hongyuanda Agricultural and Sideline Products Company, said they have recently placed an order of 600 million yuan for Tongnan lemons.

Thanks to the launch of the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor, logistics time between Chongqing and Southeast Asian countries have been cut by over 10 days, Zhong said.

The corridor is a trade and logistics passage under the framework of the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity. Launched in 2017, it has been gaining steam as its rail-sea routes offer faster and cheaper freight transport options between western China and other countries and regions.

“We have established a long-term supply relationship with Tongnan. We look forward to win-win cooperation,” Zhong added.

The lemon growing area in Tongnan has increased from 7,333 hectares in 2015 to over 20,000 hectares in 2019, with an annual output of over 3 billion yuan.

Last year, Tongnan produced around 350,000 tonnes of lemons, half of which were exported to more than 30 countries and regions.

The local government has teamed up with enterprises to boost the intensive processing of lemons, turning the fruit into products with higher added value.

Chongqing Huida Lemon Technology Group Co. Ltd has processed lemons into more than 300 kinds of products, including lemon juice, beverages, essential oil, facial masks and liquid aromas.

“Tongnan’s deep-processing products based on lemons are mainly sold at home. We are making efforts to accelerate the expansion of overseas sales channels,” said Chen Changshu, an agricultural official of the Tongnan District.