Chinese appetite for Durian Threatens Malaysian Forests
The growing Chinese appetite for durian, an oblong fruit with a tenacious odor, is accused of causing a new wave of deforestation in Malaysia where part of the jungle is razed to the profit of plantations. Durian, which can weigh one to three kilos and grows in Southeast Asia, is considered “the king of fruits” by amateurs, who compare its creamy texture and intense aroma to that of blue cheese. But many people do not support its smell, compared to that of old socks, sewers or vomit. The opinions are so clear that many hotels in the region prohibit customers from having durians in their rooms while in Singapore the king of fruits is banned from the metro.
In China, it has a growing success, which pleases Malaysian Exporters.
To meet demand, Malaysian farmers are abandoning small orchards in favor of large plantations, a practice that encourages deforestation, already widely practiced for the cultivation of palm oil, according to environmental protectors. Deforestation is underway to plant durian duri hitam intended to meet this demand,” confirms Sophine Tann, from the PEKA association. In the forest district of Raub in central Malaysia, whole swathes of tropical forest have been cut to make room for durian plants protected by nets. A plantation was installed next to a forest reserve which shelters a very rich fauna, including monkeys and exotic birds. The river in this area is now cloudy and strewn with trunks and branches left by the cutting of trees. Asked by AFP about this, Ample Harvest Produce, the company managing the project, did not want to comment. But according to the PEKA association, these cuts were authorized by the local authorities in a previously protected area.
Lovers of Durians
Some 4,000 km away, the owner of a stall selling Malaysian durians, “The little fruit captain”, has no trouble selling his goods: Wang Tao explains that his customers have “fallen in love” with durians Malaysians because of their particularly sweet taste. It imports frozen fruit from Malaysia and serves it in plastic containers, or in other forms, as a cake, ice cream or chips. I tried for the first time when I was a child, it’s a taste that you acquire,” says Liu Zelun, a student who says he visits this store at least once a week. “Thai durians have a stronger flavor but we get tired of it, not the ones we buy here. The most sought after variety, “Musang King”, has thick, golden flesh. We can find in Beijing sold up to 800 yuan a piece (120 dollars). “Our customers don’t care about the price, they just want the best,” says Wang.
Doubling of Exports
Growers are increasingly turning to durian, while world palm oil prices appear to be continuing to decline, combined with increased production in Southeast Asia and a falling demand in Europe – where consumers are turning away because of the environmental damage linked to this crop. The Malaysian government, on the contrary, encourages the cultivation of durian: the country’s farmers are pushed to exploit existing orchards. Exports of this fruit to China doubled in the first eight months of 2018 from the previous year, to 7.4 million ringgits ($ 1.8 million), according to the agriculture ministry, and Malaysia hopes that an agreement signed in August to allow the export of whole frozen durians to China will further boost the industry. But conservationists are pessimistic. The culture of durian “brings even more deforestation and loss of biodiversity in Malaysia”, estimates the association Rimba. She warns of the risk of “destroying the habitat of many species, including tigers, elephants, primates and toucans.