By Haresh Deol
November 3, 2017
WOULD you pay RM500 for a kilogram worth of Musang King?
I love durians but I can never imagine forking out that much for a fruit. But there are those in China who are willing to spend a lot of money just to get a taste of the creamy flesh inside the thorny fruit. The Musang King is sold between RM80 and RM100 per kilogram here.
And such admiration for the Musang King is music to the ears of durian entrepreneurs especially in Raub.
Over the weekend, Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek told locals in Raub the King of Fruit is their new gold – referring to the active gold mining activities in the Pahang town since the 18th century that died in recent years.
Yesterday (Nov 2), Ahmad Shabery left for Nanning, China ahead of a durian festival scheduled Nov 3-5.
His role there is beyond officiating the event. The Kemaman MP is eager to see the Musang King being widely sold in China, which will then open the door for more fruits and edibles to be exported there.
Beijing has granted a one-off approval for Malaysia to ship in four tonnes of durian to the event which will be held in the capital city of the Guangxi province, located in southern China.
The delivery of the fruit in the frozen form was the first attempt to meet the high demand in China. The Chinese authorities previously only allowed the shipment of durian pulp.
“If we can send our Musang King directly to China, this would mean our durian farmers will earn more while China nationals are able to enjoy the fruit at a cheaper price,” Ahmad Shabery said.
China also obtains its durians from Thailand and Singapore. Singapore imports durian from Malaysia and exports them to China. The Thais and Singaporeans are keeping close tabs on the developments, fearing they would lose out if Malaysia goes into China in a big way.
“The idea is to turn the Musang King into a premium, luxurious fruit … a Malaysian speciality just like the empurau.”
The empurau, mainly found in the Rajang, Baleh, Katibas or Balui rivers in Sarawak, is touted as the most expensive freshwater fish and is priced as high as RM1,800 per kilogram.
But what about durian lovers like myself who would want to enjoy the Musang King?
“The same argument was seen when the empurau business started booming. Today, you have people from Hong Kong and Singapore flying to Kuching just to eat empurau.
“If you have the money, you too can enjoy it. And we have alternatives … other durians to enjoy.”
While pointing at me, Shabery said while smiling: “After all, you prefer durian kampung from Batu Kurau, right?”
But this has been a lousy season — so lousy that I hardly had the opportunity to feast on durian.
Wouldn’t this affect exports, I asked.
“No. In fact, we have already developed the technology to preserve our durian so that they can last for a long time … for months … and this will ensure we will always meet the high demand.”
The swiftlet bird’s nest business is big too. The value of bird’s nest export to China is RM135 million annually.
Joining Ahmad Shabery to China are some 300 bird’s nest entrepreneurs. The Republic had imposed a temporary restriction on imports of bird’s nest from Malaysia following the declaration of a bird flu outbreak in Kelantan on March 15. The ban was lifted in June.
Malaysia produces an estimated 25 tonnes of bird’s nest per month and is the world’s second largest producer of bird’s nest after Indonesia. It was earlier reported that the swiftlet farming industry is expected to contribute RM4.5 billion to the country’s gross national income by 2020.
“They (entrepreneurs) are funding their own trip. This shows commitment and enthusiasm. The idea is to show them and the authorities in Nanning that we are eager to stamp our mark in the bird’s nest industry,” he added.
The other edibles that could be a hit in China are jackfruit, pineapple and Bentong ginger.
So is this Ahmad Shabery’s “final shot” at leaving a legacy in his ministry before the looming General Election?
“It’s not about me … the durian farmers and Malaysia will benefit if we start exporting our fruits to China. This will strengthen the farmers’ economy and that of our country.
“China is a big market to tap. We have something they appreciate and are willing to pay. In return, this will also see more Chinese nationals visiting Malaysia as they will get to enjoy Musang King here at a cheaper price,” he added.
I wish I was in Nanning as the durian festival there will satisfy my cravings which had been severely suppressed due to poor harvest following the bad weather.
But more importantly, I hope to see this initiative redefine the Musang King and that our durian industry will thrive in China and other parts of the world.
Long live the King of Fruit!
Multi-award winning journalist Haresh Deol spent close to two decades in the newsroom. He last served as executive editor of Malay Mail. He is now a media and communications strategist. Haresh can be reached on Twitter (@HareshDeol) or via email: [email protected].