Malaysia: Palm oil popularity prompts durian scarcity
For a long time Malaysian durians have been among the most expensive fruits on the Chinese market. As an example, Sultan Durians from the state of Pahang have been selling for CNY180 (US$28) per kilogram (2.2 pounds), and that's just at wholesale. To find out why prices have been soaring, www.freshfruitportal.com caught up with Muhammad Nor Bin Abdul Manan, assistant director at Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (FAMA) of Malaysia.
"First of all, the target customers of Malaysian durians in China are the country's well-to-do families. For that reason, the pricing of Malaysian durians in China tend to be much higher, sometimes three to five times, than that in our home country," he said.
"Secondly, unprocessed fresh Malaysian durians are not allowed to be exported to China directly. They must be frozen first and then shipped to China, which costs more time and money."
But even more influential than these two factors has been the gap between supply and demand in Malaysia, according to Manan.
"Durians have been a major staple for local farmers in Malaysia. However, in recent years many growers turned to palm oil plantations, due to its more lucrative return," he said.
"The total production area of durians shrank considerably. Moreoever, our priority is to secure domestic supply, which further put constraint on the volume of durians available for the Chinese market."
With the supply that is available, packhouses wishing to ship to China must also be granted approval by the country's quarantine authorities. Manana said complicated application procedures have slowed down the export process, and currently only nine Malaysian packhouses were granted access.
Several others are still awaiting outcome of the assessment by the Chinese government. Very soon, a total of 12 packhouses will likely appear on the list.
Even though these challenges exist, Manan said Chinese durian-lovers embraced the Malaysian product with open arms. At present, 40% of durians produced in Malaysia are exported to northern giant.
In order to better inform Chinese consumers about what Malaysia has to offer, in 2013 FAMA collaborated with CCTV-7 of China on a documentary about durians.
"The documentary shared with Chinese customers the culture behind growing, harvesting and consuming Malaysian durians. It can be found on the screens in many durians stores," he said.