INTERACTIVE: Malaysia’s thriving fruits and vegetables

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 20 Aug 2023

Durian stall operator Chew Chye Chooi, who has been farming and selling fruits for more than 20 years, said he could sell about eight tonnes of durians a day. - THOMAS YONG/The Star

PETALING JAYA: It's been an increasingly fruitful past few years for Malaysia, literally.

Malaysia is producing more fruits and vegetables, with durian and tomatoes being the top crops springing up from our land.

For fruits, the total production volume has steadily grown from 1.543 million tonnes in 2018 to 1.711 million tonnes last year – a 10.9% spike.

A similar trend is also seen for locally grown vegetables, with the volume sprouting by 17.4% from 997,745 tonnes in 2018 to 1.171 million tonnes last year.

Malaysia’s iconic durian is tops among the fruits produced in the country, having the highest yield, according to data from the Agriculture Department.

It weighs in at 459,747 tonnes or nearly 27% of the total 1.711 million tonnes of fruits harvested last year.

The pungent but delicious fruit is also number one with the largest area of land used for cultivation in 2022.

It makes up 42.6% or 85,366 of the total 200,337 hectares used for planting fruits nationwide.

Other fruits are also thriving, with a similar blossoming trend over the years:

Mad about durians

On why durians are so abundantly produced, Federation of Malaysian Fruit Farmers Association president Datuk Lawrence Ting Siew Haw said such thorny fruits, especially the Musang King variety, receive strong local and foreign demand, including from China.

“We’re also starting to get a lot of enquiries from countries in South America about our local durian,” he said when contacted.

For farmers, Ting said durians are of more value to be grown thanks to its high demand, leading it to be widely produced.

“Sometimes, land used for other purposes is also converted for planting durian,” he added.

States which are top producers of durian are Johor (121,898 tonnes), Pahang (107,386 tonnes) and Kelantan (41,815 tonnes), according to data in 2021.

The bulk of durians are grown in the Raub district of Pahang, followed by Tangkak, Johor and Jeli, Kelantan.

But some fruits did see a decline in yield, because of reasons like the Covid-19 pandemic.

For bananas, Ting said its production suffered from 2019 to 2020 as the world had to deal with battling the coronavirus.

“Many foreign workers returned home and for those two years, many planters had to scale down their operations.

“Fortunately, it is now slowly picking up again,” he added.

Tomatoes are tops

For vegetables, locally-grown tomatoes recorded the highest production volume, with 201,306 tonnes harvested last year.

In fact, Federation of Vegetable Farmers Association secretary-general Chay Ee Mong said Malaysia has more than enough tomatoes, exceeding its self-sufficiency level at about 110%.

“There is high demand from countries like Singapore and places like Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

“This is because Malaysia produces one of the best varieties of tomatoes.

“They are of high quality because of its longer shelf life compared to other varieties – our tomatoes can be stored for one week and still be fresh whereas others can only be kept for up to four days.

“The fruits are still firm even though they are fully ripe,” Chay added.

Among the states which are main producers of tomatoes in 2021 are Pahang (112,822 tonnes), Kelantan (69,510 tonnes) and Perak (2,879 tonnes).

The cool, green hillsides in Cameron Highlands, Pahang produced the most tomatoes among all districts in Malaysia, with 111,612 tonnes harvested in 2021, based on the data from the Agriculture Department.

Other vegetables like chillies, eggplant, cucumber and cabbages are popular too, said Chay.

“This is because the local demand for such veggies is high, seeing that they are popularly consumed by all races in Malaysia.

“As such, farmers tend to grow more of them,” he added.

Malaysia could do with more chillies though, as our yield is only enough to meet 30% of local consumption.

The remaining 70% have to be imported produce from countries like Vietnam, Thailand and China, said Chay.

"Invest more in AI"

To spur on the growth of our fruits and vegetables, both Ting and Chay urged the government to help farmers by investing in new technology like artificial intelligence (AI) for better results.

Chay said the government can assist by providing more machines to vegetable farmers to cope with the increasing demand for crops.

“As our population increases, so does consumption.

“A lack of veggie supply may increase prices, causing consumers to complain of the rising costs if we don’t do something to address this,” he added.

Ting also hoped the government will aid fruit farmers by removing taxes for them as an incentive to produce more.

“We also need more support for smart farming that utilises AI.

“Such technology requires a big database and costly operations that smaller farms cannot handle,” he said.

Ting suggested that the government encouraged more local workers to be involved in farming too, as the industry currently relied heavily on foreigners.

“We need to train young people in Malaysia to be involved in farming as foreign labour is not sustainable in the long run,” he added.

Until then, here's some trivia on the country's number one fruit, the mighty durian.

There's also much to learn about the ever-versatile vegetable that's the tomato.

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