China’s demand for durian sparks environmental concerns in Malaysia

China 24

It’s a notorious fruit that has plenty of fans in China. But that’s leading to worries in one country that’s supplying them.

CGTN’s Frances Kuo has more.

They’re stinky, spiky and some say, downright sickening. Because of their pungent smell, they’re even banned in some places in Asia.

But fans of durian can’t seem to get enough.

China’s appetite for the fruit is growing with some kinds costing more than $12 per kilogram.

The United Nations said last year, China imported durian worth more than $500 million – a hike of 15 percent from 2017.

Nearly half of that comes from Thailand but now Malaysia is getting in the market.

A new deal allows Malaysia to export whole durians, not just in pulp and paste form as before. The country is hoping to increase its production more than 50 percent by 2030.

“Malaysian durians are mainly grown in a semi-wild environment,” said Wang Tao, a durian shop owner.  “They maintain the most original taste of durian, so real durian eaters cannot resist their rich taste, creamy texture and sweetness.”

But the demand has sparked environmental concerns. 

Some warn that large swaths of jungle are being cleared to make way for vast plantations of the pungent fruit.

“Durians are becoming a demand, especially where the Chinese market is concerned,” said Sophie Tann, an environmentalist.  “So I would say right now the evidence of all these deforestation from the planting of durians is in actual fact in preparation to meet that demand.”

And that means Malaysian growers are starting to shift from small orchards to industrial-style operations.

It’s yet another threat to nearby habitats and ecosystems, already vulnerable to loggers and farmers cultivating palm oil.

“There must be a balance of how much we produce and how much is taken care of,” said Tann.

Malaysia’s central government has denounced the deforestation, calling on growers to use existing orchards and reuse trees, and rallying for the rights of tribes whose lands are at risk.

Despite those efforts, some worry the craving for durian comes at too high of a cost.

“The natural environment must be there for us to survive. Otherwise, we won’t have water, we won’t have anything,” said Tann.

People try durian aka “stinky fruit” for the first time