Malaysia’s durian farmers fret over virus fallout – dpa international


Durian-flavoured ice-cream is becoming more popular in parts of Asia (Simon Roughneen)

Durian-flavoured ice-cream is becoming more popular in parts of Asia (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s hopes of exporting 500 million ringgit (120 million dollars) worth of durian a year to China could be stalled by the -deadly coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 1,000 people.

With much of central China under lockdown and commerce slow to revive after the Chinese New Year, Malaysian growers are noticing falling demand and prices.

“People are not working in parts of China, people are not going out, not spending – demand is down,” said Jimmy Loke, owner of Jimmy’s Durian Orchard in the region of Pahang, east of Kuala Lumpur.

Prices in the region have dropped by “around a quarter” since the outbreak, Loke said.

China is the world’s largest durian market, gobbling up 66 per cent of exports, mostly from Thailand and Malaysia.

The spiky edible globe is revered by proponents as the ‘king of fruits’ – a divisive moniker, as its pungent cheesy odour is repulsive to some, while its creamy texture and mildly-sweet taste are mouth-watering to others.

The durian’s popularity surged in China in tandem with its outbound tourism, which has grown six-fold since the 2002-03 outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Tens of millions of Chinese take vacations annually in neighbouring durian-growing countries. Returning visitors have spread the durian gospel, prompting a proliferation of durian-flavoured snacks on the Chinese market.

But with little sign of the coronavirus epidemic slowing, concerns are growing that China’s neighbours – durian growers included – could feel the pinch if its tourism remains slow and imports drop.

“The worry will be if this virus continues,” said Lim Chin Kee, a Malaysian durian farmer.

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