Pungent durian stack up in Malaysia as Covid-19 freezes China demand

A shortage of labour and electrical power outlets in backed-up Chinese ports as a result of the coronavirus outbreak is disrupting shipments of frozen durian from Malaysia to its biggest market for the pungent fruit. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
A shortage of labour and electrical power outlets in backed-up Chinese ports as a result of the coronavirus outbreak is disrupting shipments of frozen durian from Malaysia to its biggest market for the pungent fruit. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 21 — A shortage of labour and electrical power outlets in backed-up Chinese ports as a result of the coronavirus outbreak is disrupting shipments of frozen durian from Malaysia to its biggest market for the pungent fruit.

Normally bustling roadside durian stalls in Malaysia have also fallen quiet as the number of Chinese tourists, many of whom have developed a passion for the spiky fruit, has dropped off sharply since the outbreak began.

“Everybody is having a problem to clear the goods due to port congestion, it’s really hitting us,” Ernest Lee, marketing director of Malaysia’s Durian Hill exporting company, told Reuters.

Malaysia, the world’s second largest durian exporter after Thailand, shipped RM160.6 million worth of the fruit to China in 2018, according to government data.

China’s appetite for the Southeast Asian fruit has soared in recent years, with customers paying top dollars for Malaysia’s signature “Musang King” variety and developing a taste for durian-flavoured confectionery.

China normally accounts for about 79 per cent of Malaysia’s frozen durian exports, but trade has ground to a halt in recent weeks because of the coronavirus outbreak.

One top exporter said it expected to lose up to RM15 million in the next quarter if normal shipments did not resume soon.

“Even our downstream products like durian ice cream for the summer season are not moving,” said Anna Teo, director of exporter Hernan Corp.

“If this continues for another one or two months, it’ll be a disaster.”

People seem either to love or hate the “king of fruit”, as it is known. Durian are banned in some airports, and on public transport and in hotels in many places in Southeast Asia due to their strong smell.

But Malaysia has been encouraging large-scale farming and is predicting a 50 per cent jump in exports by 2030.

Durian stall operators in Petaling Jaya, near the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, said the number of tourists had plummeted by about 80 per cent, with prices down by about 20 per cent as a result.

“We can only keep fresh durians here for 36 hours. If we can’t sell it, we will peel it and sell the fruit to factories that make paste and other food,” said Cheong Tok Kong, the manger of one outlet. — Reuters

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