Extreme weather delays harvest, threatening Malaysia's durian exports to China

By Minh Hieu   May 21, 2024 | 02:55 pm PT
Extreme weather delays harvest, threatening Malaysia's durian exports to China
A vendor sits among baskets of durians in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur, Aug. 4, 2007. Photo by Reuters
Malaysia’s main durian harvest season is delayed by unpredictable weather, raising concerns among exporters about the reduced quality and quantity of the fruit, potentially affecting exports to China.

The harvest season usually runs from May to August, but in Johor, the fruits are not ready for harvest yet, durian merchant Tie Kian Chow told CNA.

He suggested that recent fluctuations in weather patterns are causing the delay. "The weather alternates between very hot and rainy, this makes it hard for the durians to bear fruit, especially those of premium quality like Mao Shao Wang (Musang King)."

Johor, which has 20,275.6 hectares under durian, is Malaysia’s main producer of the fruit, according to Malaysia-based news website The Star.

Tie also expressed concern that the fruit’s quality might be affected and fall below the stringent standards set by China, the world’s largest durian consumer.

Malaysia has been reeling from scorching weather, extreme rainfall and flash floods in recent weeks, attributed to the heatwave in Southeast Asia and the El Nino phenomenon.

Such weather patterns could directly impact yields, durian consultant Lim Chin Kee, who owns plantations in Raub, Pahang, told CNA. "It's possible that the yield will be much lower this year because the weather is out of sync (with the usual pattern)."

Tommy Chong, a durian researcher and farmer in Kulai, Johor, warned that the extreme weather could lead to more "burnt tip" durians, which are unacceptable to Chinese importers.

Burnt tips refer to the ends of durian pulp turning brown or dark brown due to uneven ripening.

This could tarnish Malaysia’s reputation for supplying top-quality durians, which is particularly concerning as the country is close to concluding negotiations to export fresh durians to China by the end of the year, The Business Times reported.

If successful, Malaysia, which currently only exports frozen durian to China, will begin competing with Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines for a larger share of China’s lucrative fresh durian market.

Teoh Sock Soon, owner of retailer Ah Shui Durian in Johor, said lower output could drive up prices, impacting the competitiveness of Malaysian durian in the Chinese market.

These could jeopardize Malaysia’s plans to double durian exports from RM118.83 billion (US$25.36 billion) in 2023 to RM238.4 billion this year, according to the Sun.

Competing with other countries who have a greater market share in China means Malaysia must be able to adapt to Chinese consumers’ changing preferences.

Lim said: "From our surveys, the new flavor that the China markets is favoring is Black Thorn, which has a sweeter taste compared to Musang King which is slightly bitter."

To cater to this, Malaysian exporters have shifted their focus to cultivating more Black Thorn trees, which typically take five to 10 years to yield fruits.

Black Thorn only accounts for 1% of Malaysia’s total durian production now and Musang King for 36%, according to its agricultural ministry.

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