KUALA LUMPUR ― Malaysian durian prices have reportedly fallen over the past two weeks, as demand from China slowed down due to the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak that started from the country.
Singapore news agency CNA reported that the disruptions to China’s logistic industry, city-wide lockdowns and change in consumer pattern because of the outbreak, have impacted the local durian industry.
The Segamat-based Tan usually exports whole fruits and frozen durian paste to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Qingdao. He said that orders have dropped to almost zero over the last two weeks after many of China’s cities have gone under lockdown.
He is currently looking to sell his excess durian locally or to find a market in Singapore.
“Many farmers have durians and are looking for other ways to sell. We were expecting rising durian demand from China but that has now changed.
“That’s the nature of durian business, prices are volatile. We have to react quickly to sell our excess durians at lower prices,” he reportedly said.
Originally, Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Salahuddin Ayub had expected the export of frozen whole durians to China to reach 1,000 metric tonnes each month but the nCoV epidemic had unexpected adverse effect on the industry.
Malaysia’s total durian export had accounted for 6.8 per cent of the durian production.
The outbreak had also triggered a 50 per cent decrease for the prices of the highest grade Musang King variant, dropping it down to RM30 per kg from RM60 per kg in Malaysia’s durian capital ― Raub, Pahang.
Durian expert Lim Chin Khee who owns a small plantation there for research and development purposes pointed out that Beijing is not halting imports of durians but the outbreak has affected product transportation process across China’s borders.
“Many of the farmers in Raub and other parts of Malaysia have stopped processing durians to China because they don’t want to take risks.
“What if the virus situation gets worse? We will have a lot of unwanted durians in cold storage,” Lim reportedly said, referring to how durians exported to China are stored in liquid nitrogen freezers.
Apparently, he also observed that Chinese companies are not importing as many durians due to the market demand in China itself, where the locals are in no mood to enjoy the pungent, creamy fruit.
Being a luxury food, Lim explained that durian is best enjoyed in large groups during happier times and noted that currently it is not the best of times to enjoy it in a large gathering.
The decreased export is not the only reason behind the slowdown in domestic durian industry as durian tourism has also been adversely impacted by the widespread virus.
A farm at the base of Bukit Fraser that usually hosts durian buffets and tours for tourists has seen a 75 per cent drop in visitors since Chinese New Year.
Its operator, John Kung thinks it is best to close down temporarily until the pandemic is over in light of the travel ban by Malaysian authorities against Chinese tourists.
“Most of our visitors are Chinese tour groups anyway, so we might as well close shop until the virus stops spreading,” Kung reportedly said.
Putrajaya had temporarily suspended granting visas to Hubei province last week and other provinces under lockdown on Thursday.
However, Pahang Fruit Farmers’ Association chairman Melissa Yap has a more positive mindset and believed that once the fright over nCoV is over, China’s demand for the fruit will be restored.
“The peak season for durian is from April to August, so hopefully by then the virus would have been controlled.
“Yes, now durian tourism is down and there are logistical problems to import to China, but we know the Chinese people still love durians,” she reportedly said.
Yap added that since durians can be stored in liquid nitrogen freezers, it can last for up to two years and that the short-term slowdown should not impact the farmers too much.