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New tech and China demand lifting Malaysian durian farmers, especially in Raub

Publish date: Tue, 02 Jul 2019, 12:48 PM

KUALA LUMPUR, July 2 — Durian farmers in Pahang’s Raub district, home of the Musang King, are reaping the harvest of their famous crop almost year round now thanks to new technology and China’s new policy allowing the import of the whole fruit.

The durian season started just several weeks ago, and most states such as Johor and Penang distribute them across the country and export some to Singapore, but players in Raub are now eyeing the giant market in mainland China, Singapore-based newspaper The Straits Times reported today. 

With reports of an oversupply causing prices to drop regionally, farmers now have the option of freezing and storing the fruit to be sold later or export them to the ever-hungry China where demand is still high.

“There’s no such thing (as excess durians). If there’s excess, we can either make durian paste or freeze the whole fruit and sell it later... we are not dictated by market pricing so much now because we have other ways to clear or store the durians,” orchard owner Datuk Ken Lai was quoted saying. 

Lai, who also owns a durian processing factory, said that since China has allowed Malaysia to export whole durians, demand has rocketed. 

The process of exporting is so much easier and less time-sensitive now that durian factories can freeze the fruit in liquid nitrogen, allowing it to be kept for up to two years, while maintaining its freshness.

To do this, freshly harvest durians must be frozen within hours of their harvest, and then they can be stored whenever the time is right, and not be at the mercy of market fluctuations.

According to the United Nations International Trade Statistics Database or UN Comtrade, Malaysia exported 16.6 million kg of durians to Singapore in 2016 and 13 million kg in 2017. It exported 367,908 kg of durians to China in 2016, but this fell to 73,823 kg in 2017.

In May, China had approved imports of whole durians from Malaysia where before this, it was only allowed to export only durian pulp and frozen paste. Previously, China got their whole durians from Thailand.

But Raub has never had a problem selling their durian ever since they started planting it some two decades ago.

A-grade durians — those weighing above 1.4kg per fruit — were marked for export abroad, where they fetched much higher prices, according to Raub Tourism Association treasurer Cindy Chong

“China’s businessmen have come to Raub in recent years looking to send the Musang King over but because export of whole durians wasn’t possible, durians would be exported to Thailand first before heading to China,” she was quoted saying.

UN Comtrade data shows durian exports from Malaysia to Thailand rose from 38,765 kg in 2016 to 364,020 kg in 2017.

Five Malaysian companies had been given approval to export the fruit to China, said Agriculture and Agro-based Minister Datuk Salahuddin Ayub last month.

Lai’s first shipment of whole durians will be sent to China next month. He expects to receive an order of at least 2,000 tonnes per season.

He foresees prices increasing this month from the June market rate of RM36 per kg for A-grade Musang King sold by orchard owners to middlemen, to between RM40 and RM45 a kg.

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