What is happening to our durians?

  • Business
  • Monday, 30 May 2011

I AM getting a bit worried about the fate of the King of Fruits in Malaysia. Imagine, if only a fraction of the 1.3 billion people in China decide that they prefer durians over mandarin oranges, will there be any left over for us back home?

I reckon that Uncle Donald in SS2, and many others who tempt us with varieties ranging from the Kim Hoo to the Ang Sim, the Hor Loh to the Ang Heh, and also seedless types named after certain politicians, must now be looking at new marketing strategies.

Will they still want to offer us the “All you can eat for RM10” or “Eat Till You Drop” packages when a bigger market is now ready and open?

Over the past few months, Chinese officials have reportedly been sniffing around our durian plantations to check on our food safety standards. And we have passed the test.

So when Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited Kuala Lumpur at the end of April, he formally agreed to allow the entry of Malaysian durians into mainland China.

We are very happy, of course, and our government even sent a gift of 200 frozen durians to Wen to express our thanks. Nice gesture.

And now it is left to our planters and entrepreneurs to take up the challenge. But I do hope they will not forget the domestic market.

It's tough enough that we lose some of our best durians to our neighbour down south but can we withstand a sudden rise in demand from the Chinese? Will we be left only with the kampung durian while the branded ones are exclusively for export?

After all, we are all familiar with the story of how Macau's Gambling King, Stanley Ho, recently sent his private jet to collect 88 durians from Singapore.

Ho spent approximately RM4,800 on the fruit which he bought from the 818 Durian Stall in the city-state though we can safely assume that the fruit, the Musang King variety, came from Malaysia.

It works out to RM50 per fruit, not counting the transport costs. I guess this is really small change to the super-duper rich.

Ho didn't eat it all but reportedly shared the bounty with his good buddy, Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing.

Interestingly enough, a recent Forbes survey shows China now has the second most number of billionaires in the world, after the United States.

According to Forbes, China is home to 64 of the world's 937 wealthiest people, but various estimates put the actual number of billionaires at between 400 and 500. What if all of them want to eat durians?

We all know that the King of Fruits is not something that only the very rich can afford. In fact, it is very much the common man's fruit, so can you imagine how big the demand will be if the ordinary Chinese suddenly realise that when it comes to durian, only the Malaysian variety is the real thing?

Our neighbours up north will have a tough fight on their hands, having monopolised the market in mainland China all these years.

According to an Associated Press report, Thailand has dominated the durian trade for more than three decades. It shipped about 138,000 tons (125,000 metric tons) of durians worth nearly US$70mil last year to mainland China, which bought nearly 60% of Thailand's global durian exports, according to UN trade statistics.

Malaysia, according to Fama (Federal Agriculture Marketing Authority), produces about 330,000 tons (300,000 metric tons) of durians a year, mainly for domestic consumption.

How much of that will now be exported is anybody's guess. But, hopefully, any fight to control the China market will not get prickly or raise a stink.

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