‘Durian farmers pay the price in the end’

PETALING JAYA: Durian farmers are “shooting themselves in the foot” if they continue to clear forests for durian plantations, conservation groups said.

A total of 36 conservationists co-signed a statement, raising concerns over durian as the new monoculture crop driving further deforestation and biodiversity loss in Malaysia.

They said destroying wildlife habitats will reduce the number of durian fruit pollinators, which will directly influence the quantity and quality of the yield.

Rimba president Dr Sheema Abdul Aziz said the durian tree cannot self-pollinate and is dependent on wild animal pollinators.

She said research shows that the only truly efficient natural durian tree pollinators are fruit bats, especially the giant fruit bats known as flying foxes as well as cave nectar bats.

These bats are essential to the sustainability of the durian industry yet they are severely threatened by hunting and uncontrolled limestone quarrying, she said.

“Any further removal of their forest habitat and food resources will continue to reduce the effectiveness of their role in durian fruit production,” Dr Sheema, who is Malaysia’s sole flying fox ecologist, said.

She said insect pollinators like the Asian giant honey bee can serve as secondary pollinators in areas with no bat pollinators, but they are also highly dependent on a pristine rainforest habitat for survival.

“Destroying pollinator habitats and food resources in order to establish durian monoculture does not make good business sense.

“Companies that engage in this practice are prematurely destroying the very future profits that they hope to derive from their durian business,” she said.

“Farmers would have to invest extra time, labour and money to hand-pollinate their durian trees,” she added.

Beyond wildlife loss, Dr Sheema said the durian plantation expansion is also causing landslides in hillslope areas and is threatening the livelihoods and traditions of the orang asli communities.

Rimba called on the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry, the wider durian industry and durian farmers to think long-term and pursue good agricultural practices that are sustainable and contribute to healthy ecosystems.

“Suggested practices are to prioritise converting previously tended agricultural land to durian orchards rather than clearing native forest for durian farming, establishing new durian plantings in appropriately suited areas, avoiding pure monocrops by intercropping with other fruit trees, and integrating low-impact and organic practices into pest and tree management,” she said.

“By ensuring the survival of these crucial pollinator communities, this will also help to guarantee the long-term longevity and viability of our local durian industry,” she added.

This statement follows The Star’s exclusive report detailing how China’s demand for durian has led to widespread land clearing and open burning in the Hulu Sempam area in Raub.

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