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China’s Growing Durian Appetite Could Soon Affect Malaysia’s Environment

Durian forests are also home to some of Malaysia’s most endangered species, prompting environmental concerns.
August 2, 2019, 8:52am
durian china malaysia
Image by Choo Yut Shing via Flickr.

The main season for durian, a Southeast Asian fruit notorious for its scent and size, runs between June and July, and later again in December. During these months, the fruit takes over stalls across Malaysia, where over a hundred varieties of the durian fuel the craze nationally. Malaysia’s durian is so renowned that it has even won awards, bagging the top spots at the Durian Festival and Awards 2018. In 2016, the country exported 18 million kilograms of the fruit.

One country, in particular, has taken notice—and is ordering in bulk.

“Almost all Southeast Asian countries produce durians. But it is also recognized that the best durians come from Malaysia; the best tasting and the ones with the best flavor,” Tan Kok Wai, Malaysia’s special envoy to China, told Al Jazeera.

According to Durian Harvests, a plantation company, Chinese durian consumption increased by 13 percent a year between 2006 and 2016. Malaysia has recently agreed to shoulder that demand. In May, the two countries signed an export agreement that is expected to kick fruit production into high gear.

The first shipment of the fruit from Malaysia to China took place this June. Now, Malaysia is expected to export as many as a million kilogrammes of frozen durian to the country – every month. According to the Agriculture and Agro-based Ministry, this export of durian could add $120 million to Malaysia’s economy each year.

As is, the country has already increased production over the last two years, from 211,000 tons in 2017 to 341,000 tons in 2018. But China’s increased consumption could have a serious impact on Malaysia's animal species, people, and land. The best areas to grow durians, for example, are simultaneously places that Malaysia’s most endangered species call home.

Animals such as the rare Malayan tiger are affected by these new orchards sprouting up to meet demand. Gua Musang, home to indigenous people, is also being taken up by durian plantations, causing conflict. Durians themselves are put at risk – thinning forests are resulting in the deaths of honeybees and bats, both essential for pollination.

The environmental implications have led farmers to incorporate sustainable methods as a means of protection. These include reducing pesticides and herbicides. Some farmers even remain resistant, saying that they will not be clearing forests just to make their businesses grow.

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