The shortage of durian supply against a demand surge, and not its export to China, has been pinned as the main cause of the soaring price of the prized fruit.
Several in the durian trade when met by Malaysiakini, countered Prime Minister Najib Razak’s claim on Thursday that exports to China had led to the price going up as high as RM100 per kilogramme.
“Durian is indeed in short supply because he wants it, I want it, everyone wants it. So the prices are now a bit more expensive,” said Cheah Kim Wai, 36, who operates a durian stall in SS2, Petaling Jaya.
“When the durian comes (from the wholesalers) at a high price, we too are forced to sell it more expensive,” he told Malaysiakini.
Cheah, who has been in the business for 18 years, said weather is also a factor as it affects the yield, and the fact it is “not durian season yet” also contributes to the high prices.
“The price is high now really because we do not have enough, and this is the rainy season. Not because we are exporting it to China,” he said.
“It’s like vegetables as well. When it rains, the prices go up because the yield is not much but the demand is high.”
“It would be different during durian season, especially in December,” he said.
A producer’s market
In his speech at the National Farmers and Fishermen’s Day in Serdang this week, Najib boasted he was the man behind getting Malaysia’s favourite fruit exported to China.
Citing how he had once seen durian selling for RM1 per fruit, today, “the ‘musang king’ durian is sold for more than RM100 per kilogramme because we have opened a new market in China.
“I want to tell all of you here, that I was the one responsible for getting permission for durian to be exported to China,” said the prime minister.
Malaysiakini’s check found prices were indeed higher this season.
Cheah said the price of the fruit is also being pushed up because there are now more products that use durian, further increasing its demand and giving sellers more options.
He illustrated how it was possible to bargain for a lower price from the farmers in the past, but today, they are less willing to accept a lower price as they can sell the fruit to product makers like durian paste or the popular fermented tempoyak.
“Tempoyak too used to be RM8 a box, but now it can fetch from RM30 to RM50,” he said, adding durian cakes have become very common.
‘RM1 two decades ago’
Durian farmer Sulaiman Ibrahim, 35, from Sik, Kedah, shared Cheah’s views.
When asked if exporting to China could have caused the price increase, he said no.
“Durian is not even enough for the Malaysian market.
“In the past, durian could be sold by lot. A lot would cost RM10, but today there is a shortage so people are forced to sell by weight,” he told Malaysiakini.
Asked about Najib’s claim of RM1 durians, Sulaiman said that would have been seen nearly two decades ago.
“The last time durian cost RM1 each was around 1998 to 1999,” he said.
He said many factors go into the price, for example fertilisers and pesticides, that have become more expensive.
For five acres, he said he had to fork out from RM10,000 to RM20,000 for these, but this does not guarantee a good crop.
Sellers too have to clear their stock in three days, otherwise, it would go bad.
“Malaysian durians don’t keep well, unlike Thai durians that have preservatives that make them keep for over three days.”
Add to that labour and transport costs, the profit is not high, he said, averaging from RM7 to RM8.
“If it’s sold at RM45 a kilo, the investment is RM20 and profit is RM25, and that’s before space rental and transportation,” said Sulaiman.
Demand boom unexpected
Durian farmer Loh Kar Liang from Raub, Pahang meanwhile said the demand today was beyond expectations.
The 28-year-old said business was good, and he has to give dealers six to seven baskets of fruit a day.
He said the profits were satisfactory but was tightlipped on how much he was raking in.
“For a nine-acre plantation we put in RM40,000, but the yield is extremely good, and we also export the fruit to China,” he told Malaysiakini.
Apart from China, frozen durian is also exported to Australia, New Zealand dan Taiwan, while fresh durian is being exported to Japan and Korea.