MCO couldn’t come between Malaysians and their love for durians... but the weather might

A worker sorts out durians at a shop in Petaling Jaya June 8, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
A worker sorts out durians at a shop in Petaling Jaya June 8, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, June 14 — The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent movement control order (MCO) imposed on Malaysia seem to have had little to no effect on the country’s durian sellers, who reported a substantial increase in demand, especially for home deliveries.

Despite this, some farmers and sellers have also expressed worry at not being able to meet the demand, as this season’s crop yield is less than expected due to factors such as the weather, climate and temperature.

In Penang, durian sales, while brisk, are expected to spike in tandem with the easing of the MCO.

The popular Bao Sheng Durian Farm in Balik Pulau said business is good as they have taken to packing their fruits and delivering them to customers.

“We started the durian packing business early this year, and then it somehow peaked during the MCO period until now.

“For us, this is a boost as our durians can reach more customers in Penang.

“At the same time, it’s easier for us as well, as it involves packing the fruits, irrespective of variety, into boxes on a daily basis,” said third-generation farmer Chang Zhe Vooi when contacted by Malay Mail.

The 26-year-old, who is also the son of the farm’s current proprietor, said Bao Sheng Durian Farm has been around for more than 60 years.

“Our customers used to visit the farm to feast on durians, but since the MCO, we have been busy packing boxes of durians instead,” he said.

Chang explained that one box contains one durian fruit and the farm packs at least 200 boxes a day.

He said that there was no specific type of durian being packed and most come from the farm’s trees that were planted by his grandparents.

“Our customers know about our durians. We have over 30 varieties and we pack what is available.

“Basically, for us, this is a new method of selling our fruits,” said Chang.

Penang Fruit Farmers Association secretary-general Kie Kim Hwa also confirmed that there was a good demand for durians in Penang.

“Sales have been okay and we offer a wide variety of durians from the kampung to kahwin (hybrid) varieties.

“With the MCO easing, we see more roadside stalls experiencing brisk business.

“There is still a demand for packed durians as they were mainly the staple during the restricted phases of the MCO, but with the easing of the order, people will flock to the stalls to pick and choose,” said Kie.

He added that even with the rain, the durian harvest in Penang is manageable with good yield for this year.

A worker fills a plastic container with durian in Petaling Jaya June 8, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
A worker fills a plastic container with durian in Petaling Jaya June 8, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

Meanwhile, in Johor, durian sales are also on the uptick, with the cheaper kampung variety doing particularly well.

For Pontian-based farmer Mohd Firoz Sanusi, 40, the demand for kampung variety durians has been promising due to the price.

He told Malay Mail that he has been receiving calls from customers about his kampung durians that sell for RM11 to RM18 per kilogramme.

“For me, kampung durians from my orchard are divided into three grades, namely A, B and C.

“At the same time, we also stock limited amounts of hybrid favourites such as IOI, Musang King and Cap MIA that cost RM30 to RM55 per kilogramme,” said Firoz.

Firoz, who also supplies fruits in bulk, said this year’s outlook for durians and other local fruits seems challenging due to the high rainfall and lack of manpower on farms due to the MCO.

“That is why branded durian varieties such as IOI, Musang King and Cap MIA are priced at a premium.

“I guess people are more cautious about spending and therefore, favour kampung durians now,” he said. 

Durian cultivator, Chong Ah Kim, 56, from Padang Rengas in Perak, said that this year, the trees from his orchard did not produce much fruit due to the rain that has fallen over the last two months. 

“Most of the fruits fell before they could mature due to the wet weather, causing production to be lower this year,” he said. 

He said that only half of the fruits from each tree ended up being harvested, but added that sales remain profitable as there is still demand from wholesalers around Perak. 

“The durian season just started and it will last until September. Hopefully, we will get more fruits after this as the weather starts to change,” he said. 

He explained that it will take up to 100 days for the durian trees to yield fruit. 

Chong, who has cultivated durians for nearly 20 years, said that prices range between RM3 and RM5 per kilogramme for buah kampung depending on the grade, namely A, B and C. 

He added that his orchard only produces two types of durian which is buah kampung and Musang King.

One durian seller — who only wanted to be known as Leng, 64, and has been in the trade for over 40 years, primarily operating in northern Penang — said his sales were not particularly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent MCO.

“Actually, on some days, sales increased. It is just that we had to deliver to people’s homes instead of them coming by the stalls to eat durians at leisure.

“Admittedly, since MCO restrictions were eased, my sales have seen a 30 per cent increase, but this still cannot compare to how things were before the pandemic hit us,” Leng said.

At the time, he said any one of his stalls could sell all of its durians within three to four hours of arriving from the farms.

“Large crowds would come just to sit down and enjoy the fruit, especially tourists. In the past month or so, we still sell out, but it might take an entire day for that to happen.

“I can only hope things go back to the way they were, as I must say I miss the sight of people eating durians heartily at the stalls,” Leng said.

Another seller doing brisk business is Wong Jee Min, 50, who mainly operates in Balik Pulau and George Town. He said this season could be the best one that he’s ever seen in several decades as a durian seller.

“Ironically, I think due to the MCO, many people seemed to crave durians even more when stuck at home than before. My delivery team can hardly keep up with the demand sometimes.

“I would estimate that my sales have gone up by 20 to 30 per cent at the very least. The only drawback is the lower than average crop yield this season,” Wong said.

He cited weather conditions for the low yield, namely drought or heavy rain, as well as fluctuating temperatures.

“The drought especially wreaked havoc on the crops, lasting for as long as five months. The lack of water caused the durians to ripen and drop earlier than they would normally.

“It is a dilemma in that sense. Demand is at an all-time high, and although we would gladly meet that demand, we are always worried the existing supply will run out before it can be satisfactorily met,” Wong said.

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